Friday, September 11, 2009

The Bereaved


By Thomas Bradshaw. Directed by May Adrales. The Wild Project. (CLOSED)

Downtown provocateur Thomas Bradshaw has managed an unlikely hat trick with this new play about a New York family dealing with cardiac arrest, cocaine, and cupidity: One on the hand, his critical admirers seem a little underwhelmed by the play's relative tameness, but at the same time he's included enough extreme situations and scenes to repel the unconverted. Apart from warm raves from the Times' Jason Zinoman and Time Out's Helen Shaw, most critics sit on a continuum between finding the show queasily if cruelly entertaining and finding its shock effects ultimately dull and wearying. In one of the more original leads we've seen in a while, Curtain Up's Deborah Blumenthal writes that a character unpacking Oreos from a Whole Foods grocery bag in the play's first scene portends the "missed realism" of the show as a whole.

The New York Times A
(Jason Zinoman) Cocaine and sudden death are nothing new for Mr. Bradshaw, the cult theater artist. But while his provocative explorations of race and sexuality like “Purity” and “Southern Promises” receive most of the attention, his gift as a stylist marks him as a real talent. He has proved in play after play that he has a confident vision of the theater that is his own...In the past directors have portrayed this heightened style as dark melodrama or moralistic provocation, with mixed results. But in this gleefully unpredictable portrait of New York yuppies the director May Adrales employs a lighter comic touch, establishing a slick normalcy that masks rather than draws attention to the outlandish world of the writer...No playwright applies as ruthlessly Hitchcock’s definition of drama as “life with the boring parts taken out.” But something surprising happens when the preposterous shifts accumulate. The madness onstage starts to take on its own persuasive logic, and once you accept that these people have no social filter, you start to even have some compassion for them.

Time Out NY A
(Helen Shaw) I don’t believe Bradshaw is simply out to needle us. Yes, his hilariously bitter pill, The Bereaved, divides audiences: Some sit stonily; some hiccup with laughter. Yet Bradshaw’s game isn’t just gross-out gags, or the Marquis de Sade via Reefer Madness. He’s actually playing a subtle dramaturgical Jenga, pulling out all of theater’s support structures (character! argument!) and alarming us with how much he has left. Like Sarah Kane with a sense of humor, Bradshaw pursues degradation with a terrier’s thoroughness...I can only marvel at how director May Adrales amps up Bradshaw’s two-dimensional After-School Special spunk with a cast that meets Bradshaw’s naughtiness with insouciant cheer.

On Off Broadway B+
(Matt Windman) Outrageous...In 70 tight minutes, Bradshaw relentlessly builds upon these odd situations to epic proportions and dark results. We won't spoil the details, but he uses a lot of shocking language and imagery.

Variety B
(Sam Thielman) If you have any affection or empathy for anyone in this play, you will dislike it intensely and probably walk out. This is either the problem with or the joy of Bradshaw's work to date: He demands contempt, or at least he presents you with such extravagant horrors, you have to wall yourself off from their emotional content...These characters' mishaps get giggles, whether it's teen pregnancy or accidental death. It's a parody, just like Edward Albee's "The American Dream," and we're invited to feel comfortable in our superiority. If we blink and get offended, we've lost the avant-garde game...Bradshaw excels at getting his audience's attention, no question, and he clearly wants to give voice to his conscience. But with so many protective layers of irony and cruelty, it's hard to feel anything.

offoffonline B
(William Coyle) With his latest play, The Bereaved, Thomas Bradshaw has found a natural outlet in often uproarious, if mostly shallow, work...In The Bereaved, rather than attempting to shock us with depravity, he’s simply entertaining us. What we get is South Park on stage. Don’t expect earth-shattering messages and you won’t be disappointed...These bereaved do everything but grieve...Thanks to director May Adrales, every actor here nails the necessary deadpan delivery and nonchalant change-ups that keep the laughs coming. B-
(Martin Denton) The question is, what is all this outrageousness in service of? As in most of his previous works, Bradshaw parades taboo after taboo...but he's played this hand before, and so, for me at least, the thing lacks teeth and claws...Partial Comfort Productions (of which Beckim is co-artistic director with Molly Pearson) has done a loving job bringing the play to the stage, with first-class production values and a splendid cast...Director May Adrales keeps things fast and furious, if not as in-your-face as I have seen other Bradshaw works performed...Bradshaw is a playwright of remarkable talent...With The Bereaved he has created, yet again, a play that stays in the memory, whether you want it to or not.

That Sounds Cool C+
(Aaron Riccio) The shocksploitation of familiar territory can be entertaining...especially when it's uninhibitedly directed by someone like May Adrales. (We got your nudity right here!)...It's somewhat refreshing to dispense with subtext and simply say "Get an abortion" or to just segue from Michael pounding away at Katy to then show a sickly satisfied Carol in her hospital bed, drifting off. The lack of hidden facets to the characters doesn't diminish the surprising effect of seeing the characters actually doing what they're talking about, and the spry physicality that Adrales captures is what keeps us laughing. And so long as you're fine with surface-level laughs, The Bereaved satisfies. But just as quickly as Michael remarries--the day after Carol's funeral--so too is Bradshaw's show forgotten. That such extreme images can be so quickly buried says a lot about how empty the show really is.

Village Voice C
(Eric Grode) In The Bereaved, the prolific provocateur Thomas Bradshaw turns his acid-filled pen to an oddly perky spoof of...of what, exactly? The women's-picture weepies of the 1930s, with their deathbed promises? After-school specials, with their leaden pedagogy? Edgy-family cable dramas of the Weeds variety, with their haywire moral compasses? This thematic limbo may account for the tentative quality of much of this episodic yarn...Bradshaw appears to be smirking out of one side of his mouth (eliciting cheap, albeit occasionally successful, laughs at grisly subject matter) and frowning judgmentally out of the other (cutting abruptly from sexcapades to scenes of the abandoned, dying mother). If you don't laugh, the message appears to be, "You're square"; if you do, you're worse.

Curtain Up C
(Deborah Blumenthal) I had been expecting another high-octane, everyone-crowded-around-the-table-yelling dysfunctional family play as those offshoots of August: Osage County seem to be popping up everywhere. What I got instead was a play packed to the seams with crude, to-the-point humor and an ironic nonchalance about just about anything and anything depraved: drugs, teens getting pregnant and running away from home, a family snorting coke like it's no big deal...The Bereaved does often ring with an absurdity that promotes a rather unbalanced sense of humor...Though the play is undeniably laugh-out-loud funny with a lot of weight in its topics, there's not much in the way of substance. What we get instead of much feeling is a domino effect presentation of one calamity after another that eventually approaches absurdity that is no longer enjoyable but merely ridiculous.

Theatermania C-
(Andy Buck) Rather than create a serious drama, Bradshaw rarely demonstrates that he's trying to be more than a naughty provocateur...To make this sort of play work requires a confident command of language that Bradshaw hasn't yet mastered...The play is darkly funny now and then -- especially when a character's train of thought suddenly leaps the track and veers off in an unexpected direction -- but that's pretty much the game. At the end, we're left with a series of vignettes that try to top each other in sheer outrageousness. It would help a little if all of director May Adrales' actors were working on the same page.

New York Post D
(Frank Scheck) Unlike, say, Harold Pinter, whose outrageous characters and situations were marked by savage intelligence and wit, Bradshaw seems mainly intent on furthering his image as a provocateur. But the endless series of supposedly shocking plot developments quickly proves tedious. With no underlying emotional reality to anchor the proceedings, the evening devolves into an overextended, unfunny sketch.

Backstage D
(Erik Haagenson) Thomas Bradshaw has had the shocking insight that selfish people behave badly, and he spends a long 70 minutes sharing it with us in "The Bereaved." This self-styled provocateur playwright serves a remarkably mild dish here..."The Bereaved" plays as if it wants to be a harsh Jules Feifferesque cartoon, but it never touches the stylization necessary to achieve that kind of intensity. Neither director May Adrales nor the talented company...has been helped by following Bradshaw's stage directions...As his characters barely approach two dimensions, they can't sustain naturalistic acting. And the naturalism neutralizes any savagery that might be found in Bradshaw's surprisingly ordinary observations.

NY Times A 13; Time Out NY A 13; On Off Broadway B+ 11; Variety B 10; offoffonline B 10; B- 9; That Sounds Cool C+ 8; VV C 7; CU C 7; Theatermania C- 6; New York Post D 4; Backstage D 4; TOTAL: 102/12=8.5 (B-/C+)

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