John Lennon once said that God is a concept by which we measure our pain; in Nikos Vlachos' new play, The Bed, God is love—the platitude stenciled upon a pillow that rests on the bed occupying center stage in this play, which spans 62 years in the life of a marriage.
But in Vlachos' drama, love is something by which we measure our gain: at least in the eyes of young bride Sara (Kate Smiley), who, on her wedding night, whines, pouts and admonishes her new husband, Joe (Mario Rossi), for giving her a hand-hewn bed made of rare American chestnut as a wedding gift rather than a diamond, a Rolex watch or a new car.
The absurdity of a young wife bitching out her husband on their wedding night for giving her a piece of folk (and romantically functional!) art that will last their lifetime doesn't bode well for a two-and-a-half-hour production about this couple's union. Things do get better—occasionally—but Vlachos' well-intentioned play is hamstrung by Michael Wallot's overwrought direction (PowerPoint montages between scenes add 10 minutes to a play that is already far too long), musical accompaniment (cellist Elizabeth Moulton is excellent, but the long musical passages clog up an already slow play) and a script that never finds a tangible inner compass.
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Vlachos' writing isn't bad; his dialogue is rarely forced, there are plenty of laughs, and his play seems, in its few sublime moments, to be a sincere examination of love and commitment between two people living in an age when everything around them seems to be crumbling.
But the author bails out on the subjects and themes that would make The Bed something more than a tepid mixture of Barefoot in the Park; Ghost;and Same Time, Next Year. For instance, Joe is an anguished painter forced to choose between compromising his artistic abilities by working as a common tradesman or expressing his commentary on the turbulence of American society from the mid-'60s to the mid-'80s. But that strain goes nowhere, Joe ultimately winding up as some kind of Thomas Kincade-ish media celebrity with no genuine anguish in sight. Similarly, Joe's moral wrestling with believing in something other than the uncertainty of the world gets obscured by redundant arguments with his wife over true love and whether they're right for each other. By that point, the fuckers have lasted more than 40 years together without killing each other: they're right for each other!
Tag on the last two truly unfortunate scenes—the final one set in 2045—and The Bed becomes a droning, rambling work punctuated by occasional rounds of screeching petulance. It needs to be tightened and deserves a better production. In its current state, The Bed is a fitting production by which we can measure an audience's theatrical pain.
THE BED AT CAMINO REAL PLAYHOUSE, 31776 EL CAMINO REAL, SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, (949) 489-8082. THURS.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 2 P.M. THROUGH JAN. 28. $18.