Theatre LILA’s The Bed creates a dreamy landscape of passions and nightmares. In a show that unfolds completely in and around a white four-poster bed, the collaborators weave poetry, dance, song and story into a seamless piece of theater that is sad and funny and totally beautiful.
The show, which runs through March 19 at the Fredric March Play Circle in the Wisconsin Union Theater, is made up of a series of vignettes, mostly written by local playwrights. The story is more patchwork than plot driven, but there’s one constant. From the beginning, Olivia D. Dawson plays a worried woman, struggling with sleep. She’s ever-present and often wide eyed at the strange scenes that unfold around her. It’s toward the end of the show when her character becomes defined: She is a mother in mourning. In a spectacular scene written by Gavin Lawrence, her young son (Elijah E. Edwards) has been killed, presumably violently. Edwards raps and sings, the entire cast moving behind him on the big, white bed. It’s heartbreaking and gorgeous.
There are funny moments, too. On opening night, the audience guffawed at the bed-making antics of Michael Huftile’s French clown — a recurring character from other Theatre Lila productions. Huftile also shines as a reluctant apprentice tooth fairy on his first night on the job in a fable written by Kathleen Johnson. Huftile is a master of physical comedy and in both roles he’s hilarious.
Theatre LILA’s artistic director Jessica Lanius, who created and directed the show along with James DeVita, also appears onstage. In an especially funny scene, she shows up in bed wearing a snorkel mask and fins, asking a bewildered Dawson questions about sea turtles. The questions in this funny and poignant scene, written by DeVita, become increasingly existential.
The show, which is presented without intermission, ran just over an hour on opening night. I’m a fan of brevity (I’m usually complaining that shows are too long), but this feels too short. The movement and the poetry are dazzling, but the show would benefit from more content. The magic of the theater is like a sleeping pill; it takes a little while to set in. By the time audience settles into the effects of mysterious world of The Bed, the show is nearly over.
In all other ways though, The Bed is a success. The collaborators of Theatre LILA have yet again found a way to create a production that transcends categories, one that is — all at once — a song, a dance, a poem, a play. Whatever you call it, The Bed is a fabulous dream. And like the best dreams, it’s complicated: weird, funny, and a touch tragic. When you wake up, you’re not the same.