nytheatre.com review by David Ian Lee
April 8, 2009
The press materials for Lena Cigleris's Strange Bedfellows, produced as part of Manhattan Repertory Theatre's Winterfest 2009 festival, are misleading by way of omission: "Medical student Jill Bateman is astounded to learn she is living with three serial killers in [this] dark, domestic comedy." A quick glance at Cigleris's dramatis personae and the true conceit of Strange Bedfellows becomes immediately apparent: The serial killers in question are Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Leatherface (names recognizable to anyone with a passing recollection of '80s schlock-horror).
What follows is an hour of cinematic in-jokes and pop cultural allusions, with little attention paid to the internal logic of the world of the play. Bateman (played with earnestness by Nicole Hodges) may claim astonishment when, in her final scenes, she "discovers" the murderous nature of her roommates, yet her role as the audience's cipher strains credulity; to not acknowledge the macabre goings-on in her apartment (beaus who casually walk-off mutilation, correspondence smeared with blood and bodily fluid, Mrs. Voorhees's severed head in the kitchen) diminishes the character's intellect (at best; at worst, Bateman often seems morally obtuse, and not in the satirical manner of her American Psycho namesake).
Matters are not helped by Susan Atwood's direction, which calls for actors to alternately stand about with contrived theatricality (often in a line a la Desilu three-camera vintage blocking) or to scream at the audience; prop knives, chainsaws, and other blood-splattered items are jabbed within inches of the front row, usually at eye level. For some, this may result in squeamish giggles; personally, I found the experience disconcerting, and an element that did not aid a production already struggling due to poor conception and a lack of verisimilitude. Also at the performance I attended, a few hand props were accidentally left on stage after a scene change; rather than being acknowledged, they were glimpsed by actors, apparently willfully ignored, and eventually kicked under the first row of the audience. Such choices—both conceptual and in-the-moment—make it difficult to believe in the world of a play, even a conceptual farce such as this.
For their part, the cast seem to be enjoying themselves; Hodges and Nate Weisband (as a milquetoast version of Jason Voorhees, the hockey-masked assailant from the Friday the 13th series) have a natural warmth and easy chemistry, and Kyle Minshew's manic, mute Leatherface effortlessly steals scenes with a performance that is equal parts My Left Foot and Duck Soup (with a healthy seasoning of bloody Grand Guignol). Unfortunately, with little dramatic conflict and nothing in the way of real-world logic to ground the show, Strange Bedfellows most closely resembles a Saturday Night Live sketch, stretched to overstay its welcome by nearly an hour; at 20 dollars a ticket, that seems a bit horrific.