What was the best drama you saw this year? Perhaps you saw Network in New York with Bryan Cranston. Or maybe the best drama this year was at the family table, on Thanksgiving. Maybe it was in your Boardroom, just after the CEO was given the unfortunate results of the latest audit.
Or maybe it was as you passed by an Annapolis laundromat and saw, through the big plate-glass window, a couple kissing furiously, faces contorted with ecstasy and danger. Or perhaps it was at this same laundromat, later (or earlier) when a lissome young woman, shielded by a bed sheet, took all her clothes off (save for a pair of sturdy shoes), tossed them into the washing machine, and then wrapped herself up in that self-same sheet and stepped out into the rainy night and the astonished crowd.
If so, you were watching The Accident Bear, Bob Bartlett’s newest comic drama, now being staged in Annapolis’ Avenue Laundry. After all, drama comes from the imagination, and the imagination comes from life, so why not stage drama not just with the trappings of life but in the middle of life itself? Life, and drama, occur in laundromats, in barber shops, on the Metro (see Pinky Swear’s Use All Available Doors) in a rehearsal room (see 4615’s Venus in Fur) so why not stage them there, too? All you need is a willingness to thumb your nose at capitalism (the Avenue Laundromat seats only 12).
Bartlett’s nose-thumbing gives us a funny and provocative show involving three people: the dour, accident-prone Bear (Paul Diem) who owns the laundromat, Chance (Rachel Manteuffel) who is either a late-night customer or his lover, or both, and Buddy (Louis E. Davis), the worst best friend ever. The story is basically this: Late at night, while Bear is on a desperate quest to jimmy his favorite candy out of his own vending machine, Chance comes in with several bagfuls of laundry. She immediately slips on a pool of water and, cursing, calls out Bear. They exchange terse, unfriendly words; he decides the Laundromat is closed, and she stomps out. Then we hear a scream.
Then, because this is a play (at least in part) about the persistent wrongness of memory, it happens again. Slightly differently. And a third time. And each time it happens we learn something more about the two characters, including what they’re hiding from themselves.
Periodically, the bumptious, splenetic, self-absorbed Buddy bursts into the Laundromat. He and his wife, Mrs. Buddy, run the deli next door. Buddy professes to love his wife, but he spends most of his time trying to avoid her attention. He longs for a career in the health-care field. Specifically, he wishes to be a purveyor of medical marijuana. Also, recreational marijuana. He dries his medical supplies in Bear’s dryers, to Bear’s immense annoyance, and while they are drying tries to convince Bear that the laundromat owner’s gruesome accident history is a direct result of his self-destructive impulse, which also manifests itself in his relationship with Chance.
The actors, behind the steady hand of director Jay D. Brock, do Bartlett’s work credit. Some actors, cast in a relationship, appear to have electricity with each other, but Diem and Manteuffel, as Bear and Chance, have something better. You can see in their eyes, their faces, the way that they hold their bodies, that these are two people who love each other, and recognize that their relationship is so toxic that the best thing they can do for each other is leave.
The Accident Bear
closes December 22, 2018
The run has sold out
When I say that you can see all that in their eyes and faces I am not using hyperbole. The actors are not fifty feet away from you, as they might be in a black box, or two hundred fifty feet away, as they might be in a conventional play, but right in front of you, so close that you will have to be careful about where you put your feet.
What’s more, there’s no lighting, or special effects, or (to the extent I could notice) makeup. The actors were obliged to give us the real deal, and Diem and Manteuffel deliver.
Davis’ Buddy doesn’t do as much close-in work, but he is his bombastic self every moment of the play. You can tell that Davis is effective because at about the play’s mid-point you will feel like pushing him into one of the dryers, and switching it on, even if it costs five quarters.
Bartlett’s script has a technical sophistication I haven’t seen in his previous work. He tells this story in layers, withholding and revealing information with precision and skill, ratcheting up tension with each iteration of the story.
The ending does not have the traditional Aristotelian resolution and catharsis, and you may go away hungry for more iterations of the story. But, frankly, life itself is short on Aristotelian catharses. My guess is that there was no such thing at your Thanksgiving dinner. After all, isn’t that why you go back every year for more?
The Accident Bear, written and produced by Bob Bartlett, directed by Jay Brock, featuring Paul Dien, Rachel Manteuffel, and Louis E. Davis. Aziza Kelly is the Stage Manager. Reviewed by Tim Treanor.
- The Accident Bear has completely sold out its run at The Avenue Laundromat. Bob Bartlett would like to tour this show (hopefully with this cast) to laundromats around the DMV and beyond. So if you want to see it, join the Great Laundromat Search. Contact Bob Bartlett on Facebook.
Reviewer’s Note: Bob Bartlett is a longstanding friend of mine, and under normal circumstances I would not review a play he wrote or directed. But our scheduled reviewer was unable to attend, and since I had attended as a civilian, and, as noted above, no more tickets are available, I agreed to write this review.