BOTTOM LINE: Effing funny and freakishly relatable (at first anyway). This play is a prime example that high-quality downtown theatre does still exist.
If one were to see a play called The Bereaved, written by a playwright named Thomas Bradshaw, one might expect a solemn tale, perhaps a depressing story about death or coping with loss. One could not be more wrong. The Bereaved is indeed a story about death, a broken family, and coping with tragedy. But it's also hysterically funny in an "I can't believe that just happened" kind of way. The audience laughs in spite of itself, and very quickly the humor trumps anything intrinsically sad.
The premise is really quite depressing. Carol (McKenna Kerrigan) is a high-powered Manhattan attorney slash wife and mother. She suffers a heart attack and spends the subsequent weeks in the hospital. During that time, she makes sure to finalize plans for her family so that when she dies (she's not optimistic about her recovery) her part-time professor husband Michael (Andrew Garman) and 15-year old son Teddy (Vincent Madero) will be cared for. As Carol anticipates the end, her family and best friend Katy (KK Moggie) try to cope with the situation. And it's perhaps in those coping mechanisms that they lose sight of any responsible decision.
The Bereaved is an appreciated theatrical mindfuck that keeps the audience's attention-you think you're seeing one play and it turns out to be another. As the characters disengage from reality you wonder if they were always bat shit extremists or if their situation is a result of their trauma. The tale Bradshaw weaves builds geniusly: at the beginning the story is relatable, albeit on an extreme level. But as it unfolds, the characters unhinge and their antics, once quirky, exaggerate to the unpredictable. This provides for tremendously fun storytelling as the absurdity escalates and the audience wonders what could possibly happen next.
Although Bradshaw's script is worthy of accolades on its own, the biggest reason The Bereaved is so successful is because the cast is all-around fantastic. The actors deftly develop characters that are all too real and then ride the wave as story progresses. They all have excellent comic chops and the comedy is intentionally played through an understated demeanor. And most importantly, the entire cast remains committed, whether they are naked or not (and there is a lot of nudity). These actors can no doubt justify everything their characters do in this play and as a result, the audience believes them wholeheartedly.
It's to Bradshaw's credit that the audience is kept laughing, but May Adrales deftly directs the play, bringing everything together and keeping it grounded despite the growing ridiculousness. Adralas gives everyone in the cast a time to shine and with every character weighted equally, she creates a truly ensemble piece of theatre.
I don't usually gush about plays I see, especially about new plays off-off-Broadway. But Partial Comfort does good work and The Wild Project is quality downtown venue, and most importantly, The Bereaved is a really well-done production. It's not perfect yet (the ending is a little abrupt) but I sincerely hope it gets the acknowledgement it deserves, and hopefully another run in the future.
(The Bereaved plays at The Wild Project, through September 26. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are $15 and are available by calling 212.352.3101 or at ovationtix.com. Wednesdays are pay what you can. For more info visit partialcomfort.org.)