Among the issues Richard Lay tackles in his new play, Bed & Breakfast, playing at the Independent Theatre, are love, greed, racism, and whether pancakes are an acceptable breakfast food. Despite the best of intentions and the intriguing premise he sets forth, Lay's work in Bed & Breakfast gives you plenty to chew on, but still leaves you hungry.
That makes sense, in a way, as sometimes having too many choices (at a buffet or anywhere else) can leave you feeling you have no choice at all. In wanting to tackle the interrelationships of a number of difficult issues in a compact, comic way, Lay neglects to flesh each of his ideas out completely enough to make any real impact. Bed & Breakfast often feels as though its characters - though there are only six - don't have enough words to spread around. A communication gap between characters is one thing, but a gap between the author and the audience is something else.
Lay starts off with an idea that seems rife with comic possibilities: Friends Paddy (Paul Campbell) and Abraham (Brad Ploscowe) take on the task of renovating a Chelsea townhouse into the world's most expensive (and exclusive) bed and breakfast. They plan to have it recall the 1800s in painstaking detail, from every element of the bedrooms to the "No Irish, No Jews, No Blacks" sign hanging outside.
When their hoped-for attempts at cashing in on the publicity from this enterprise prove fruitless, the threats of destitution and a lawsuit from a multi-billionaire moral crusader vanish when an angel shows up at their door in the form of Sinclair Witheridge II (Steve Kasprzak). He's willing to rent out all six rooms for $84,000 a week and make the men and their wives (Elizabeth Anne Wood and Jessica Clough) breakfast every morning.
Lay faces an uphill struggle making that plot development believable as it is, which makes it more difficult for the real meat of the story - how money can affect relationships - to come through. Out of plot necessity, Lay keeps Witheridge almost too much of an enigma, and in doing so, the details of other elements of the story (such as why the women become interested in Witheridge at the expense of their husbands) aren't given the attention they need.
Many of these important character moments happen offstage, the onstage time instead being given to over-lengthy philosophical discussions (to make sure no one misses the point of the show) and an overly meandering first act that doesn't get going until it's almost over. In trying to rein in and make sense of all this, director Simcha Borenstein does what she can and makes the most of the tiny theater's limited stage space.
Still, the staging, like the acting, feels underdeveloped and improvisational. Ploscowe gets a few nice jokes in, and William Oliver Watkins is memorable as the gay lawyer who also occasionally functions as the show's narrator, but the other actors given unsure, uncomfortable performances. They and Borenstein don't seem to fully understand, or believe, what they're saying. There were times while I was watching Bed & Breakfast, I couldn't help but feel the same way.
Sage Theatre Company