Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: MAY 8, 2009
It’s a good old-fashioned ménage à trois , with two in the bed and the third consigned to the sofa. There’s plenty of singing about who sleeps where. “Bed and Sofa” is not only a repeated musical refrain, it’s the title of a quirky 1996 “silent movie musical,” based on a controversial 1927 Russian film that raised hackles in Soviet society and was banned in England .
Set in Moscow in the 1920s, it’s about life in a bleak, repressive society, on the large and small scale. In the cramped apartment, a picture of Stalin glares out from the wall; his stern face even appears in the clouds. A disembodied voice spouts Big Brother maxims like “Man is a sensuous being. To be sensuous is to suffer.” Inside, Kolya is a lout and a boor. His wife, Ludmilla , is a beleaguered hausfrau, stifled and suppressed inside and outside her home. But she dreams of independence, and for its time, the film was prescient about feminist self-determination.
What triggers her mini-breakout is Kolya running into an old war buddy, new to town, who can’t find lodging because of the severe housing shortage. Kolya open-heartedly invites Volodya home with him, to stay on the sofa. Ludmilla is not amused. But then Kolya is called away on an extended construction project, and Volodya moves from sofa to bed. When he returns, the cuckolded Kolya is furious, and storms out. But he has nowhere to go, no place to stay. So he returns to the sofa. The men play out their rivalry in a never-ending checkers competition, which leaves poor Ludmilla ignored by two demanding and demeaning men. How things turn out for all of them, and who gets which sleeping accommodation, you’ll have to see the show to find out. What’s fascinating is that there isn’t a word of dialogue; some of the action is gestured and mimed like its silent movie source, and the rest is sung, to the sardonic-operatic score of composer Polly Pen and lyricist Laurence Klavan .
Cygnet Theatre mounted a stunning production of “Bed and Sofa” in 2004, and they’ve done it again. The set, costumes, props, everything is in shades of black, white and gray, to mimic the film and the bleakness of the times. The three-person cast and trio of musicians are superb. The voices swoop and soar, and there’s the extra bonus that the married couple onstage are real-life husband and wife offstage. Lance Arthur Smith and Colleen Kollar Smith both possess marvelous vocal instruments, as does Jordan Miller as the interloper. It’s great fun on a series of serious subjects, and Sean Murray has once again directed with spectacular precision, supported by outstanding lighting and sound. You’re unlikely to have seen or heard anything quite like this before, and it’s perhaps best suited to the adventurous theatergoer. So if that’s you, don’t loll around on your bed or sofa; go see this riveting story of sexual musical chairs.
The Cygnet Theatre production of “Bed and Sofa” runs through May 31 at the Old Town Theatre.
©2009 PAT LAUNER