The bed in Sheila Callaghan’s new play Bed, now in its premiere production at The Echo Theater Company, is huge, at least a California king, and dominates the playing space. The action there is vigorous sex spared from being pornographic by taking place beneath an appropriately large comforter. Bracketing the sex play in this ninety-minute wonder is pre- and post-coital pillow talk that is anything but lovey-dovey.
Holly (the phenomenal Kate Morgan Chadwick), the hyper-sexed owner of the bed, seems at first to be a train wreck, spun out of control by her urges and demons. Foul-mouthed and direct, Holly is in fact, a genius, a gifted musician and artist with an intellect to match. Cliff (excellent TW Leshner), a casual sex partner pick-up, sees past her churlish behavior and, despite her off-putting ways, promptly falls in love. They eventually marry – she reluctantly, he enthusiastically. Over the couple’s ten years together, Cliff’s efforts at writing stall while Holly gains fame as a musician/song-writer with a punk edge. (Ms. Chadwick plays a wicked shredding style of guitar that reminds this listener of the raucous work of Sleater-Kinney.) They produce a child and she eventually seeks the sexual comfort of her brother-in-law, JC (smooth-talking, charismatic Johnathan McClain), all of which leads to crisis, climax and dénoument.
The only hiccup in the script is the ending, which had to do with the punishment of infidelity. The actions and the methods are confusing and out of character with the rest of the play.
Although the characters’ lives seem chaotic, the production is superb. Tightly directed by Jennifer Chambers, the action suggests the many positions of enthusiastic sex without allowing views that might pull an audience out of the play. The scenic design by Se Oh (lit by Sean Mallory) allows the bed to be magical. Characters can disappear and emerge from it. Props can be retrieved from its metaphoric bowels. The surroundings of the bed’s platform are littered with the detritus of rough living – paper, beer cans, bottles and more. The costume design of Michael Mullen exposes just enough skin and underscores the changing locations and fortunes of the characters.
Jeff Gardner’s sound design is excellent from the shuddering sounds at the opening of the play that sets one’s nerves on edge, to the music that Holly ekes from her electric guitar, to the song Holly sings into a mike that drops down out of the grid like at the fights. Sophocles Papavasilopouolos and Maxwell Gualtieri composed the original music.
The show with its sexual content and free flowing language is not for everyone, but for those with open minds, Bed, with a sterling cast performing at the very top of the craft, is utterly mesmerizing. At the opening performance, the audience sat rapt throughout and applauded long after the actors had left the stage.
The Echo Theater Company’s production of Bed runs through March 13 at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles.