Regional Reviews: Wisconsin, SE
Bad in Bed (A Fairy Tale)Madison Theatre Guild and Madison Area Technical College
Also see John's recent reviews of Finder and the North Star and Shining in Misery: A King-Size Parody
The play starts with Charles (Sam Weeks) and his wife Annie Jo (Maya Weatherall) breaking up. Well, she's breaking up with him, for two reasons he didn't see coming (no, it wasn't another guy). She accuses him of being a bad listener, and even worse, of being Bad in Bed. No, he can't make amends; she's dead set: the marriage of three years is over.
Charles, who manages a TV station, ends up staying in the spare room of his college buddy Jack (Nick Kaprelian), the station's sports director. Most of the first act is devoted to the friends' thinking up various plans to get Charles and Annie Jo back together again, to no avail, and gradually focusing in on the underlying causes of Charles's failures–three of them–in marriage.
Fortuitously, their old friend Betsy (Sarah Edlund) has just published a book, "Bad in Bed (A Fairy Tale)," and surfaces nearby when she is on tour. Yes, the book has a lot in common with the subject matter of the play. Yes, she's willing to help. Yes, there's still a spark between her and Charles of what passed in the sweet by and by.
Instead of Charles just being a self-absorbed jerk, a sufficient reason for serial failure at marriage, it turns out that Betsy gets mad at him for a slight and determines to get revenge–this all back in their student days. Betsy has a crush on him, and Charles lets her down not so gently. She works with her friend Deb (Stacey Garbarski) to curse Charles with being bad in bed, a black mark that has followed him through his three failed marriages. The other reason for the failures, being a bad listener, he provides all on his own, without external assistance. (Despite these bad marriage precursors, Charles comes across as earnest and genial–just clueless.)
Deb, whom Charles cruelly nicknames Abracadebra, is still a practicing witch and is willing to come over and perform an exorcism. When Deb arrives, cooler full of witchcraft props in tow, the winds of "over the top" blow in hard through the front door. Garbarski drums up a coven of "witchy" mannerisms in support of her character. As it turns out, the extremes of Deb nicely balance the blander Betsy and Annie Jo and the more solidly grounded Charles and Jack, a tribute to director Ebert's sense of balance and the actors' skills at ensemble playing.
Bob Moore's set, which mostly represents Jack's apartment, looks more like an apartment from their student days 15 years prior, when they roomed together in college. Such is the cruelty of community theater, where sumptuous sets don't grow on trees and where most of the audience is close enough to count the nails in the stage carpentry. Above and beyond aesthetics, the set maps out carefully all the acting areas needed for different parts of the story. No matter–the play's the thing, and the story has enough novel twists to focus the audience on the important things.
Along the same theme of getting the biggest bang for the buck, Megan Dickel's costumes and Robin Fonfara's props, especially in the exorcism scene, nail the characters and add farcical kindling to the story.
In a world in which even Broadway producers are afraid to squander their considerable resources on a play that doesn't have instant and total audience recognition, Madison Theatre Guild and Madison College Theatre, as well as World Premiere Wisconsin, are to be commended for risking it all on original plays. The positive reaction of the more-than-full house spoke well for their efforts.
Bad in Bed (A Fairy Tale) runs through March 11, 2023, at the Bartell Theatre, Evjue Stage, 113 E. Mifflin St., Madison WI. For tickets and information, call 608-661-9696 or visit bartelltheatre.org. For more information about World Premiere Wisconsin, visit worldpremierewisconsin.com. For more information about Madison Theatre Guild, visit madisontheatreguild.org.
Assistant director: Rachel Seizer