Bed Bound — Solas Nua
By: Ronnie Ruff
Edna Walsh has yet to achieve the popularity in America that Conor McPherson has but he is, none the less, one of the most important new playwrights in contemporary Irish theatre. Solas Nua, one of the most exciting local theatre companies around has mounted Bedbound, Walsh’s 2000 play at the DCAC in Adams Morgan. As the lights go down in the small DCAC space a large box that fills the stage collapses, three sides fall to the stage floor to reveal a single bed containing two adults. A physically imposing large man fully dressed in a rumpled business suit and a crippled young lady, her legs bent behind her, lay partially covered by a sheet. What follows is a play of incredibly strong emotional monologues that tell a complex story of the symbiotic relationship between these two crippled people. A young woman with polio (Linda Murray) and her psychotic father Maxie (Brian Hemmingsen) offer anger filled descriptions of their lives and explain how circumstances have brought them to this place of suffering.
As the play begins Ms. Murray complains of feeling drained, she is in a continued state of panic due to being “bedbound”. Almost as if jabbed by her despair her father bolts upright and with a wild look in his eyes spews a focused, colloquialism filled diatribe that tells the story of a life obsessed with the unrelenting desire to become the king of Cork furniture sales. He is so absorbed with his business that he will do absolutely anything to be successful. This man relishes the attention from his customers and is proud of his knowledge of their needs and desires. His disappointment with his life has progressed to a point where he only wishes to crawl into bed to sleep. There are questions about the stories he tells, it is sometimes difficult to separate what is accurate and what is part of his psychosis.
As Maxie’s daughter, Ms. Murray delivers scrambled monologues about the walls closing in and memories of her mam reading her romantic novels in an attempt to achieve an escape from the life that confines her to bed in this small dirty room. She frequently becomes the mouthpiece for the characters that her father brutalized in his rise to the top. With a wild eyed delivery she pops up from her crumpled position to become these vivid ghosts of his past. There is an ebb and flow to the wall building monologues Hemmingsen and Murray deliver — the breaking down of those walls is the central metaphoric theme of the play. The walls begin their collapse as Maxie and his daughter engage, It is that connection, all be it unspoken, that brings this play to its tender yet bizarre ending.
Ms. Murray and Mr. Hemmingsen deliver performances that grip Walsh’s wordy monologues with a firm, white knuckled grip that leaves the audience all but speechless. A play of almost dizzying complexity, both actors are able to move from almost coma like postures to high pitched frenzy with ease. Dan Brick’s direction is amazing — Solas Nua has an extremely talented pair of directors (Brick-Murray) that are able to take each new production to heights usually only achieved by long established companies. The staging of Bedbound is excellent, creatively distinct lighting and smooth eerie sound add to the well designed set.
Solas Nua does not produce light weight theatre — their productions are complex, multi-layered visions of contemporary Irish theatre that are meant to shock, amuse and above all make you think. Bedbound is a claustrophobic treasure that elevates Solas Nua to another level of performance. We at DC Theatre Reviews eagerly await their new season!