Art writer Myer Schapiro says of perfection in art,
“In so far as the judgement of perfection covers the character of the parts and their relation to the particular whole, it assumes that that the quality found in parts already perceived and cited as examples of that perfection will be found in all other parts and aspects to be scrutinised in the future.”Brendan Cowell’s play BED scrutinises in retrospect the mistakes in one man’s love-life from a distance, from a hyper-dramatic viewpoint, as if speaking from the memories of a deadman, as if viewing a life as a slide show, analysing the boys, girls, men, women that haunt the regrets of a man called Phil.
As if with a microscope, the play poses a question plainly and with no vindication, what’s the worst thing you’ve done? Without romanticising a notion that is most perplexing to us humans, it explores the way we are drawn to the things that hurt us most.
Phil, played by Nick Flint, is a visual artist with an aversion to responsibility and to being worshipped by others. The story traces the threads of five relationships that have paved the way to his experience and definition of life, love and destruction. Phil at one point professes that while his art can thrive off its mistakes, a soul can die from them.
Flint is a very good actor, warming the audience into a journey that leaps constantly between decades, from seeming contentment to violent breakdown.
Phil is a destructive kind of guy that others are constantly drawn to, for his success, his intelligence and his charm. The closer people come, the further he runs, until in the end he does a double take and finds that love is the only thing that matters.
New York Theatre Company One Year Lease takes on this classic quandary with an open-ended, light-hearted and yet highly energetic and theatrical interpretation. Through the interaction of the characters alone rather than the smack in your face kind of symbolism that down the road Broadway thrives on, director Ianthe Demos maintains the writing as central focus and lets the audience think rather that dictate what it is to be a human dealing with our inherent condition within the context of love.
Though the crowd was small on this particular night the cast fully committed to their stories with rigour and with an intrinsically Australian-centric full-throttle energy. Precise yet poetic, the play’s rhythm carried the actors over perfect arks to destinations of deep loss.
Hitting home hard for me was Cowell’s commentary on the female ego and its desire to make-one-better of our vaginared peers. The cracked character of Daisy, who becomes infatuated with Phil to the point of painting a shrine to him (though she assures him it is merely a portrait), played by Sydney theatre veteran Emma Jackson, is a particularly energetic and peculiar performance.
Within three of the relationships tracked, as Phil turns up the insults and digs, this is only matched with an intensified desire for him, and we witness the point where happiness crosses over into desperation.
The casts’ on-stage chemistry is this production’s greatest attribute, though worthy of note is the lighting by Mike Riggs, who skilfully allows one bed to be specifically placed in five very different times and homes, amongst which Phil shares with a flamboyant pool-side toy-boy (Australian Nick Stevenson), and a tired and detached mother-of-his-child (Sarah-Jane Casey).
While New Zealander Nico Evers-Swindell, who plays Phil’s first teenage partner, the one Phil does “the thing” with, and fellow Kiwi Casey underplay their parts with a fine subtlety and a clear emotional subconscious life, without losing honesty Stevenson and Jackson bend and flex larger than life, literally to the point of going nuts.
American Ana Lucas also matches the quality of acting with her take on the character of Flo, a fifty-something Phil finally finds the fulfilment of love with, perhaps because of a missing Mother-figure, perhaps for the intelligence he’s finally matched with, or perhaps, in his own words, simply because life for him is now “a big old pair of tits”.
Perhaps the weakest link was the bed itself - the actors sometimes sank a little too uncomfortably into the mattress - but that’s not a criticism, that’s a nit pick.
Like at the end of Terminator II as the manic screaming heads of all the people the evil terminator has killed spire from him as he bubbles in acid, as Phil lies on his death bed, the people he has most hurt in his life are still there, screaming inside him.
While we are given clues to the mish-mash of sexual identity that Phil never settles in to truly knowing, the play is a display of the horror that comes from highlighting and dissecting the mistakes our lives can behold, the mere human experience that brings us to a place that we end.
Tenants of One Year Lease present
The New York premiere of
by Brendan Cowell
Directed by Ianthe Demos
Venue: Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex, Dorothy Strelsin Theatre | 312 West 36th Street, 1st Floor, New York
Dates: April 11th - May 5th
Times: Wednesday - Saturday @ 8 pm
Bookings: Theatermania.com or (212) 352-3101