Good Grief

With his latest play, The Bereaved, Thomas Bradshaw has found a natural outlet in farce. Mr. Bradshaw has stripped his set down to the basics, eschewed gimmicks (last year’s Dawn inexplicably featured an LED screen announcing the location of its scenes), and delivered an often uproarious, if mostly shallow, work. The Bereaved’s message, if indeed there is one, seems to be that some American families, despite their appearances, are really, really effed up. We’ve known that for decades—but, with Bradshaw, the effedupness is off the charts. 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.

The Bereaved’s action really gets going after Carol (McKenna Kerrigan), an attorney, and her adjunct professor husband, Michael (Andrew Garman) celebrate one of Carol’s court victories with some Johnnie Walker Black Label and a few lines of cocaine. She suddenly suffers a heart attack. A stunned Michael calls 911, but not before making sure to hide the drugs and booze. Soon, every component of an already precarious family unit comes unglued.

Those who come for the depravity won’t leave frustrated. It’s not enough that 15-year old kids (Vincent Madero as Michael and Carol’s prep-school son, Teddy, and Jenny Seastone Stern as his pregnant girlfriend, Melissa) snort coke like there’s no tomorrow. Bradshaw has them sell it… at school… for their cash-strapped dad…who’s having kinky sex with Carol’s best friend…while Carol languishes in the hospital, now dying from complications of triple bypass surgery.

Don’t worry. I haven’t given even half of the somewhat meandering plot away. These bereaved do everything but grieve. Teddy makes little secret of the fact that the hospital bores him and whips out his Gameboy when he visits his mom in the intensive care unit. The Brady Bunch this group isn’t (is it merely ironic coincidence that the parents here are named Michael and Carol?), yet they’re oddly endearing, nearly likeable. Lee Savage’s set design is cute and homey and makes a neat contrast to the absurd degeneracy that takes place within its confines.

Thanks to director May Adrales, every actor here nails the necessary deadpan delivery and nonchalant change-ups that keep the laughs coming. Mr. Garman in particular has real comedic chops and range. He’s a one-man whirlwind of neuroses. He and Katy (KK Moggie), in the awkward throes of one of her rape fantasies, provide us with one of the more sidesplitting scenes in recent memory. And Brian D. Coates is droll and convincing as the Harlem drug dealer, Jamal, from whom the kids buy cocaine to replace the stash they’ve stolen from Michael.

It’s difficult to shock people these days. Even cable television shows like Weeds and mainstream movies like American Pie have covered some of Bradshaw’s territory here. Mr. Bradshaw is fond of calling his work “hyper-realism” but, at least here, it’s really just farce without the chase scenes. He was wise to embrace the preposterous humor of the improbable themes he piles atop of each other.

The Bereaved's ending is a bit lazy—it’s almost as if Bradshaw simply decides to stop it at the 70-minute mark. Yet, it’s probably as good a place as any. The wantonness could go on forever. Yet, it’s that absurdity—sad, for sure—at its core, that fuels this play and makes one laugh frequently.

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