It's often said that a picture's worth a thousand words, and the production of Enda Walsh's bedbound at the Irish Repertory Theatre is a perfect demonstration of why.
Before a single word of dialogue is spoken, the theater's sound system is inundated with snatches of phrases and disconnected words, an echoing of things remembered or, perhaps, things that never were? Then, just as this cacophony of sound reaches its height, it stops and the red curtains surrounding the stage drop.
Revealed behind is a tiny room, the primary feature of which is a bed on which a father and a daughter (Brian F. O'Byrne and Jenna Lamia) lie. The bed and the two people are the only things in perfect focus; the rest of Klara Zieglerova's brilliant set is an abstract collection of lamps, furniture, and other accessories one might find in any house, though arranged in a dreamlike, completely unrealistic fashion. Clearly, we are in a universe where the ordinary logic of time and space does not apply.
The young woman was stricken with polio as a girl and has been confined to her bed for the last ten years, during which time she has developed an overactive fantasy life, retreating too easily into the romantic world of her books and fantasies. Meanwhile, her driven father has risked everything and let nothing - not even others' lives - stand in the way of his career progression up the ladder of furniture sales. bedbound finds them always speaking, sometimes to each other, but frequently through a thick haze or a distance of many miles.
In presenting these characters, O'Byrne and Jenna Lamia display daring and intense dedication. Even if it's never possible to like the characters, they are, from the first moments to the last, compelling, believable, and, most importantly, understandable. As both share a mental or emotional infirmity that prevents them from seeing the bigger pictures without (or within), it soon becomes obvious that the opening coup de theatre represents the destruction of the emotional walls between the characters, physically walled up within the confines of a world not much larger than the stage.
Once this realization sets in, however, bedbound has little additional to offer, at least on the page, with the physical production - Zieglerova's set as mentioned, and Kirk Bookman's frequently redemptive lights - and Walsh's key direction of the piece. These all provide exactly what's required to fill in the gaps, with Walsh's words, as a result, frequently seeming almost superfluous; the characters' constant repetitions of certain bits of dialogue tell us far less about their states of mind than the way they deal with each other.
Still, due primarily to Walsh's uncompromising treatment of the material - both the big things (the opening scenic effect) and the less obvious contributions (the characters speaking almost entirely through monologues, which occasionally overlap) - the play is fulfilling theatre. If bedbound never achieves brilliance as a script, Walsh is able to find the necessary core of theatrical truth in its complete presentation, which is the most one has a right to demand - and the least one has the right to require.
Irish Repertory Theatre