Wet Blanket: David and Cameron Review Bedwetter at Atlantic Theater Company (for Parterre Box)

Cameron Kelsall: Do you know the musical about the quirky little girl, her dysfunctional family and the devastating secret that binds them all together? No, not that musical. If your mind went to Fun Home, which won a raft of Tony Awards in 2015 and was a Pulitzer finalist, I don’t blame you. My mind drifted often to Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s treatment of Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel during The Bedwetter, which is adapted from comedian and actor Sarah Silverman’s memoir of the same name. Both works attempt to balance humor and heartache in the story of an uneasy suburban childhood that unfolds in the 1970s and ‘80s. And both works center on a hereditary trait passed from father to daughter: in Fun Home, homosexuality; here, the titular nocturnal malady. Regrettably, the comparison stops there. The Bedwetter—which Silverman adapted for the stage with playwright Joshua Harmon and composer Adam Schlesinger—lacks the wit, edge, and musical distinction of its thematic cousin. It’s neither focused nor disciplined enough to properly explore the heavy subject matter it engages.

David Fox: I think your apt comparison goes deeper—in both, the narrator is a young girl (well, she grows up over the duration of Fun Home, but still); perhaps more to the point, both works are tonally complex and odd, and very much echo their authors. Fun Home’s biggest surprise was its form: by taking this often brutally serious story and turning it into a graphic novel, Bechdel managed to create a work that simultaneously suggested naïve optimism, and adult disillusion. Silverman’s presence is also a distinctive, with motor-mouthed (and often foul-mouthed) aggression tied to a persona of energetic freshness. But her special admixture just doesn’t cohere in Bedwetter. My overwhelming question during the show—and unanswered after—is to wonder: Who is the intended audience? The look and feel of the show, full of musical comedy sparkle and narrated by a somewhat Annie-like girl with a big clarion voice, seems geared to young people, who would indeed most benefit from Silverman’s forthright willingness to put her traumatic childhood habit out there for the world to see. But the show is also deliberately crude and crass (I counted several “fucks” in the first 10 minutes), with several very adult themes, including divorce, adultery, substance abuse, and the death of a child…

Click here to read the full review at Parterre Box.

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