nytheatre.com review by Melanie N. Lee
August 15, 2012
The play bombsheltered, written and directed by adam harlan, is advertised as War of the Worlds (novel-cum-radio play about Martians invading Earth) meets The Merry Pranksters (an influential group of 1960s West Coast druggies). I imagine harlan recalling that 1938 radio play and thinking, “No one would believe that today…unless they were stoned…”
After a blast of Bruce Springsteen rock-and-roll and a voiceover of hip-but-scary ethereal poetry, four white middle-class twentysomethings—Trent, Mary, Andy, and John—sneak into Andy’s father’s underground bomb shelter to get high. Mary has brought the orange juice. John, wanting a quick high, takes his pill rectally. Trent lays his head on girlfriend Mary’s lap while Andy, crouched in a corner with a hoodie over his head, hopelessly desires Mary. The others accuse Andy of sporting a “UnaManson face” (Unabomber plus Charles Manson). Trent tries to shake his weakening legs alive. Mary tastes the air wants to commune with the universe. The stoned John tears the cables out of the TV system. The cell phone can't get a signal.
Suddenly the Day-Glo-colored radio screams: “Bombs…exploding all around them…people’s faces are melting off while dead babies are being thrown out of windows…chaos, madness, I tell you…Groucho Marx and Charlie Chaplin are made to shave their moustaches...and die just before they are executed…Clark Gable finally gives a damn…shrapnel and carnage across the globe…the Mayan elders, Nosferatu, and Nostradamus must be having a laugh…”
You'd think the mention of long-dead celebrities might raise an eyebrow, but it doesn't. Stunned by the idea of being the only survivors of a worldwide holocaust, the four young stoners vow—at first—to build a new world based on sharing and unity. Soon Andy, claiming his rights as heir to his father’s bomb shelter, declares himself King, crowned with a wreath of Christmas lights. Trent becomes General, and John, shunning the power grab, declares himself Peasant. Mary aspires to a title of merit, but finds it easier to wheedle her way to power, throwing aside Trent to become Andy’s Queen in the new country of New Springsteen. As members of the quartet grow to distrust each other’s agenda, New Springsteen changes from monarchy to socialist republic to capitalistic state. In Lord of the Flies style, the young druggies descend into intrigue, upheaval, and betrayal, including a planned assassination.
A cynic might dismiss bombsheltered as an obvious political fable. However, harlan's play contains many laughs and keen insights into the messy marriage of politics, religion, and especially money. Out of the show's frenetic verbal gymnastics and high-speed displays of political and monetary systems, sprinkled with quoted Springsteen lyrics, I caught snippets of wisdom about the fearsome, corruptive power of money: one can't shuck society's demands unless one is "extremely rich...or extremely poor"; debt is the root and the engine of money; things won't change because "people on the bottom dream of looking down from the top."
As Andy, Michael Lane makes an amazing transformation from shrinking, flustered shy-boy to tall, expansive self-made commander. Liz Tancredi performs a smooth transition from aspiring Earth Mother to scheming Lady Macbeth. Benjamin Drew Thompson's Trent is funny as he tries to master his wayward legs, and shows apt moments of vulnerability and bewilderment. James Allerdyce performs very well as the semi-isolated philosopher John who is unwillingly pulled from sideline observer into the center of a political quagmire.
For me, bombsheltered, an amusing and insightful satire, illustrates why the Bible warns that one cannot serve both God and Money and that money is the root of all kinds of evil.