note: entire contents copyright 1996 by Beverly Creasey
If silent movies could sing, surely they'd be crooning Polly Pen's music and Laurence Klavan's lyrics. Pen and Klaven are the creators of the magical mini-musical "Bed and Sofa" based on the classic 1927 Russian movie by noted Lithuanian folmmaker Avram Room. "Bed and Sofa" is presented by the Nora Theatre Company and it's currently running in repertory with Wallace Shawn's "The Fever" at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre.
This little gem of a musical calls itself a "silent movie opera" mainly because there is no spoken dialogue. Although the plot is entirely sung, "Bed and Sofa" has the feel of an old silent motion picture. Pithy (prerecorded) "title" quips about Russian life (like Marx' contention that "Man is a sensuous being ... to be sensuous is to suffer") precede each scene. The characters have plain and simple thoughts (like a "bed and sofa...sofa and bed...bed and sofa" song) instead of deep emotional outbursts like "I think I'd like to vacate my sofa and make love to you in your bed" or something of the confessional ilk common to most musicals. Best of all, in "Bed and Sofa" Pen's wonderful, whimiscal music (which won her an Obie) sets the cinematic tone with swelling Russian melodies and melodramatic broken chords which always mean "suspense" to silent movie audiences, making it work as satire and ernest drama at the same time.
"Bed and Sofa" is set in post-Revolutionary Moscow, when everyone is sharing living quarters. Ludmilla and Kolya generously agree to let Kolya's handsome friend Volodya sleep on their sofa. When Ludmilla's husband is sent out of town to work, Ludmilla and Volodya try in vain to resist their mutual attraction. The dramatic triangle is worked out in quite surprising fashion, not unlike Arthur Schnitzler's turn-of-the-century drama "La Ronde", wherein the last scene comes full circle to repeat the first. What makes Pen and Klaven's work refreshing are the quirky songs: where you'd expect trios drenched with passion, you get delightful songs about "Beans">
Director Daniel Gidron knows how to keep even the heaviest of subjects light. His cast is a charming triumvirate, with Chip Phillips as the solid but stolid husband husband who learns too late how much he values his wife. J. T. Sherwood is the dashing journalist who steals away his comrade's wife. Penny Rubinfeld is the neglected wife who eventually comes into her own. Girdon keeps the action moving as fast as the miniature speeding train which adds a playful touch to Mirjana Mladinov's cozily cramped bed-sitting room set. (The play's title, rendered in Cyrillic letters, is awfully funny too.)
The singers are all marvelous comedians, with Rubinfield topping them all with a vodka-induced collapse worthy of Buster Keaton. Gail Astrid Buckley's period costumes, especially for Ludmilla, add just a hint of green (in her hat and suitcase) to foreshadow her growth. Kudos to music director Jonathan Goldberg and his four-piece ensemble (which sounds like a whole orchestra) for the soaring music that has all the power (and humor) of a Hungarian Rhapsody and all the romance of the (old) Russian national anthem. Kudos also to lighting designer Karen Perlow for the authentic flicker of a silent ovie. "Bed and Sofa" is adorable, sweet and smart as all get out. Don't miss it. BR>
"Bed and Sofa" (in rep till 2 March)
THE NORA THEATRE COMPANY
performing at The Playwrights' Platform Theatre
949 Commonwealth Avenue, BOSTON