downtownexpress.com
Volume 19 • Issue 20 | Sept. 29 - Oct. 5, 2006

Theater

WASPS IN BED
Written by Richard Willis Jr. & Nicola Behrman
Directed by Lisa Marie Meller
Through Oct. 15
The Beckett Theatre
410 West 42nd St, between 9th and Dyer Ave.
(212-279-4200, www.Theatrerow.org)

Photo by Bruce Glikas

Richard Short and Alysia Reiner tough it out in the British-inspired sex farce, “WASPs in Bed.”

A stinging romantic comedy

By Scott Harrah

Although “WASPs in Bed” is set in the Berkshires and focuses on the lives of upscale New Yorkers spending a long, July 4th weekend together, this lighthearted comedy has all the makings of a “Brit-com” sex farce — and for good reason. Co-playwright Nicola Behrman got her start writing for BBC TV in London, and her show is reminiscent of the highbrow fluff about upper-middle-class couples in Alan Ayckbourn’s British farces. “WASPs” could easily be mounted across the Atlantic without making many changes, because the story has all the usual elements of this genre: couples obsessing over their sex lives, worrying about their partner’s infidelities, and facing the perils of aging.

In the opening scene, blonde Upper East Side princess Betsy (Kelly Deadmon) is seen in bed, moaning wildly as her husband of 10 years, Allan (David Alan Basche), searches frantically in the kitchen downstairs for whipped cream to help spice up their bedroom play with her vibrator. (Allan is impotent and unable to satisfy his wife the traditional way.) However, just when we think the show is going to be an American version of an English sex farce, the plot is toned down considerably. We learn that Betsy and Allan have invited their best friends up to their weekend estate in New England for a wedding rehearsal dinner for their longtime friend Bobby (Rick Gifford), a handsome carpenter who is about to marry the demure Reese (Jessica-Snow Wilson). Reese is not a virgin, but she insists upon saving herself for Bobby by sleeping in separate beds until they are married. Then Betsy’s ex-boyfriend from college enters the story as the intellectual British filmmaker and marriage-hating cynic Cal (Richard Short), who arrives for the dinner with his elegant, bitchy girlfriend Raina (Alysia Reiner).

Much of the narrative focuses on how the friends, most of whom met in college more than a decade earlier, are dealing with the paths their lives have taken as they approach their mid-30s. In her 20s, for instance, Betsy was a radical feminist working on a book about the injustices women face in the workplace, but she never finished it and instead settled down to raise a family. Now Betsy is a self-proclaimed “philanthropist” who spends most of her time doing charity work and spending the fortune earned by her husband, who runs his family’s gourmet dog-food company. She complains that she feels trapped in her marriage and is no longer satisfied as a housewife, mother and socialite.

“WASPs in Bed,” with Dustin O’Neill’s engaging split-level set, is a talky but thoroughly entertaining play in which not a whole lot happens other than some heavy dinnertime conversation about politics and the downside of marriage, sex, and everyone’s broken dreams. The most interesting element of the story is the way the “corporate” types Betsy and Allan mix with “artsy” Bobby and Reese, only to have both relationships debated by the anti-marriage Cal. When these very different worlds collide, the fireworks on this July 4th lost weekend truly begin.

The script by Richard Willis, Jr. and Nicola Behrman is based on a story by Raja Ogirala and Willis, and with so many playwrights involved, it’s easy to understand why, at times, it seems there are two stories here: a sex farce and a serious comedy about love and marriage in one. Although the plot sometimes lacks focus, “WASPs in Bed” never gets dull, and Lisa Marie Meller solidly directs the great ensemble cast, with outstanding performances from Kelly Deadmon and Alysia Reiner.



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