There's a song playing at the outset of Clint Jefferies's Strange Bedfellows, a tuneful ditty whose refrain involves pissing up a rope. But although the action of the play is set in a trailer in Oklahoma, its concern is relationships between people - people struggling to make sense of their lives, their relationships and feelings. For an exposæ, comic or otherwise, of life in a trailer park, look elsewhere.
The opening, in fact, sets the wrong tone, as it is a slapstick setup of two people unknowingly in the same space narrowly avoiding each other. Andrew (Jym Winner) has come out west to stay with his old friend Shirley (Carol Nelson). He is looking to get away from a failing relationship and hopes to refocus his life where he grew up. Shirley is lending him the empty trailer from which she has recently evicted her son Danny (Daniel Carlton). But he's not quite gone, and even an attempted suicide and a minor gunshot wound are played more for laughs than drama.
But as family conflicts are revealed - Shirley's no Mother of the Year, and Danny has been in and out of jail since his teens - the tone changes. The play works best when extended scenes reveal aspects of character by what the characters do, rather than what they talk about. These scenes alternate with stretches of exposition, but Nelson in particular was genuine and warm and gave a real sense of what Shirley's life is like. As the plot develops, though, the play becomes Danny's story, and Carlton bit into the part and didn't let go for a minute.
There's actually so much going on in his performance that the play can barely contain him. Danny seems unusually self-aware, but he is simultaneously self-destructive. His description of what life was like in jail, his unease in admitting to bisexuality, and his Act One pas-de-deux with Andrew as they approach and withdraw from each other were thrilling pieces of theater. An appealing charm and a terrific depiction of a crack high made him a leading contender for a Robert Downey Jr. biopic, if anyone's got one in the works.
Carlton also had a believable relationship with Karen Stanion, who played Lisa, Danny's pregnant girlfriend. Lisa's got a past of her own, and though the character seems more thematically expedient than dramatically necessary, Stanion brought a sunny zest to it, even if some of the dialogue seems to indicate the part was written as a black character. (Would a white character deliver "Girlfriend!" quite this many times?) Although the character of Andrew seems to be the author's stand-in, the part is underwritten, and, as a consequence, underacted.
The set (designed by Sam Sommer) was a simple depiction of a high-end type of trailer home and could almost be mistaken for a small suburban house. Costumes (designed by Tom Claypool) were suited to the characters (Shirley's tight jeans, Andrew's more New York style), and the lighting (by Cindy Shumsey) reflected the unvarying illumination inside a trailer.
Director Jeffery Corrick wasn't quite able to smooth out the play's lumps, and these bedfellows aren't quite as strange as they might like to think. But even with its unevenness, Strange Bedfellows was a worthy addition to Wings' Gay Plays Series.
Acting : 2
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Copyright 2001 David Mackler