Consent, Courtship, and Comedy in Keiko Green’s The Bed Trick

by NEW YORK DIGITAL NEWS


Green equips her audience with a magnifying glass from the very beginning using prologue to invite scrutiny. Libby Barnard, the actor who played Harriet in the world premiere, entered just as the lights began to dim. She acknowledged that she was delivering the “prologue” and admitted that prologues are a bit of a playwright cheat since it is the chance to plant ideas in the audience’s head before the story even starts. With this opportunity perfectly teed up, she lets us know that this play is about sex—“so I don’t want to get any emails after the show.” She also explains that “the bed trick” is an ancient dramatic trope used by storytellers across many continents: one character is made to believe they are going to bed with person A, when they are actually set up to sleep with person B. The trick is traditionally forgiven in the story since the fooled person was usually duped into sleeping with their betrothed. The actor who played Harriet acknowledged that the concept seems weird if not altogether offensive by today’s post-Me Too standards. She offers that she could understand how it could feel to go to bed with one person and have them seem completely different by morning light. When Barnard’s speech slides sideways into this “morning after” story the audience is left to question: is the actor speaking or the character? It is in this theatrically slippery and inquisitive space where Green sets The Bed Trick.

The far-fetched bed trick trope is brought close to present day viewers through references to beloved versions of the trick still enjoyed today. Marianne’s mother drunkenly regales an unseen karaoke club audience with the story behind 1979’s chart topping hit “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes. The song is an account of an unhappy married couple each secretly searching the singles column to meet someone new only to end up responding to the other’s ad. Harriet cites Revenge of the Nerds as an example of a bed trick when trying to defend her involvement in a student production of All’s Well. Moreover, there is Green’s own prologue where the character who may or may not be Harriet shares a story of watching a friend become strange to her after a one-night stand as if they were suddenly someone else entirely. The prologue suggests the bed trick as a metaphor instead of a literal three-person scheme, but it is no less potent to the listener. An audience member would be hard-pressed to find an aspect of the historical plot device that they have not accepted in some way.

Shakespeare’s language, along with the other All’s Well themes, are woven into Green’s fresh ensemble comedy. Harriet’s metatheatrical ability to float both in and out of the story stems from her status as a theatre student. She frequently quotes Shakespeare and even performs Helena’s monologues as it is her desire to understand the theatrical devices of All’s Well that keep the story pushing forward alongside Marianne’s ill-fated phone dates. Lulu, played by Rachel Guyer Mafune, employs an Iago-like soliloquy, explaining her villainous plan of entrapment for her boyfriend, so seamlessly it could go almost unnoticed that she was breaking the fourth wall. Rhyming couplets are placed carefully throughout the play providing a feverish sense of speed as the characters careen towards their inevitable broken hearts. Whether an audience member is a die-hard Bardophile or has not thought about the play since they forgot to read it in a high school honors class, all will enjoy The Bed Trick.

Both Shakespeare and Green played a trick on their own characters, giving them all of the tools they needed to come together but no ability to find a clean way out.

Where Shakespeare wrote the Countess and King of All’s Well unknowingly united in emboldening Helena’s actions, The Bed Trick has Marianne’s recently divorced parents— Benny and Anna—who engaged in a bed trick of their own during courtship. The Countess in All’s Well counsels Helena to look past the class divide and follow her heart to Bertram with little acknowledgement of her own luxurious life with peerage. Though Shakespeare was very capable of writing a powerful and unyielding male monarch, the King in All’s Well is introduced while on the brink of death. When Helena revives him, he grants her a wish in his vulnerable state wherein she requests to marry Bertram. The older generation of All’s Well is fallible and accessible and so is the older generation in The Bed Trick. Benny, played by MJ Sieber, is a hardworking, underpaid professor attempting to rediscover joy in his life post-divorce, one drone purchase at a time. Anna, played by Alexandra Tavares, is tanned and back in town from Florida to retrace her own less-than-sunny post-divorce decisions. Marianne, played by Sophia Franzella, struggles to decipher their respective relationship advice as she tries to avoid the pointy edges of her love triangle. How kind of Shakespeare and Green to provide such involved parental figures! The older generation wants a better love life, one free of the unfair restrictions they felt in their salad days, for the younger generation. But it is their uniquely down-to-earth qualities that make them unable to protect the younger generation; their grounded perspective provides no vantage point from which to navigate the teens out of their messes. In that way, both Shakespeare and Green played a trick on their own characters, giving them all of the tools they needed to come together but no ability to find a clean way out.

Having expertly addressed the titular artistic trope and created a saucy new Shakespeare adaptation, Green dares to interrogate the place of consent on a Shakespearean stage. Early in Act I, the roommates have a tense discussion about All’s Well and its attempt to reframe sexual assault as a positive occurrence, which leads to the topic of consent. Harriet attempts to “save” Shakespeare’s story by explaining that Bertram was technically married to Helena when she tricked him. They are interrupted before they, or the audience, can arrive at a conclusion, but Harriet’s explanation stealthily introduces the notion of intent into the conversation—the intent being that Helena was trying to consummate her marriage via the bed trick. All’s Well has been forgiven for centuries because Helena’s act was seen as “pure” insomuch that her husband would not have had sex with another woman except for Helena’s intervention.





Source link

You may also like