An argument about household chores between an upper-middle-class married couple escalates into grade-school name-calling before they settle down and turn their attention to the pressing topic of an usually large amount of semen found in their teenage son’s underwear. That in turn gets them into a long debate about whether it’s normal to masturbate in class—or, for that matter, at work—and then the husband, an adjunct professor, gets back to work on his book manuscript by snorting a large amount of cocaine.
All that happens in the first scene of The Bereaved, Thomas Bradshaw’s pitch-black comedy at Thick House. And it goes downhill from there mighty fast as the bourgeois family blithely, cheerily makes one jaw-droppingly bad decision after another in order to maintain its expensive lifestyle. It’s like the play was written by the Bad Idea Bears from Avenue Q. Honestly, the ass-licking scene is one of the least shocking things that happens in the course of the show.
Crowded Fire Theater gives the play its West Coast premiere, and the first production of Bradshaw’s work in the Bay Area. It’s a hell of an introduction.
Artistic director Marissa Wolf gives the play a sharp, brisk staging that brings out the hysterical humor and nonstop suckerpunches beautifully. Maya Linke’s fantastic set is a work of art in itself. Two elevated rooms are framed by various odds and ends such as a display of table lamps, each in its own cubby, and stacks of bricks beneath the dining room floor.
Lawrence Radecker is upbeat and energetic as dad Michael, with Michele Leavy alternately grounding and enabling him as his overworked lawyer wife, Carol. Josh Schell doesn’t exactly make a plausible 15-year-old as son Teddy, but he nails the teen’s awkward admixture of boredom, befuddlement and distress, and Olivia Rosaldo is a live wire as his jaded and worldly prep-school girlfriend. Denmo Ibrahim’s mild-mannered veneer as Carol’s best friend Katy, a psychologist, conceals delightfully deep levels of perversion, and Reggie D. White’s strutting drug dealer Jamal likes to scare the noobs by pretending to be hard and volatile and then laughing it off. Costumer Maggie Whitaker’s class-savvy street clothes give a good sense of who these characters are.
Absurd and awfully clever, the tale becomes more and more depraved, with shock value considerably amping up the hilarity. And then, before you know it, it’s over. The show’s just a little over an hour, and there isn’t much of an ending, but while it’s going it packs a wallop. Caveat emptor: there’s plenty of potential for offense in the mix, but you’d have to work pretty hard to see anything anyone does in the play as in any way endorsable. It’s all about informed decision making.
Show #38 of 2013, attended April 8.