From uplifting beginning to powerful end, a nonstop wave of vibratos tunefully tells of an unusual love triangle in a contemporary fashion. Sung in its entirety, the 85-minute operatic performance of “Bed & Sofa” brings to stage a story once considered socially ahead of its time but is now brewing laughter and compassion for its timeless premise.
Laurence Klavan and Polly Pen’s musical, adapted from the 1928 Russian silent film, “Bed and Sofa,” tells the story of a couple living in Moscow and how their lives are changed after taking in a tenant. With three inhabitants and only two places to sleep, the question becomes who will take the bed, and who will take the sofa?
While many people bustle around Moscow to find work and lodgings, some have found the game of musical chairs — or rather, bed and sofa — to be a diversion from menial tasks. Ludmilla (Erica
Steinhagen), the submissive housewife of Kolya
(David Neal), performs domestic duties daily while her husband is at work. But the tables turn after Kolya runs into an old comrade, Volodya (Patrick Oliver Jones), and invites his friend to reside at his home. The trio soon discovers the difficulty of staying within appropriate boundaries.
Director Susannah Berryman, associate professor of theatre arts at Ithaca College, helps the performers master the play’s whimsical score and symbolic libretto with near perfection. While the musical accompaniment gives voice to the originally muted characters, Berryman’s keen emphasis on facial expression and her inclusion of farcical acting further animate the startling and surprising plot.
However, the audio narration seems too modern for this period piece. While it gives historical context, it’s merely a supplemental element amplifying what the characters convey through acting — especially the “Shh shh Stalin” line added to the play, which is a strong motif that can stand alone.
Steinhagen also played Ludmilla in the Kitchen’s 2002 production of “Bed & Sofa.” Her characterization of the “submissive housewife turns romantic dreamer” is spot on. Though loyal to “His Majesty,” Kolya, Steinhagen’s skirt hiking and teasing toward Volodya reveal a rebellious temptress. She gives a heartfelt display of Ludmilla’s metamorphosis into an independent woman without missing a note.
Jones captivates the audience with his charm — both in appearance and character. His gentlemanly gestures easily dismiss his character’s adulterous behavior, and his sensational tenor voice and chilling falsetto resonate in the intimate theater space, making even the darkest matter more intriguing.
Though his baritone voice isn’t as strong as his cast mates, Neal amusingly embodies a comedic character whose outrageous pranks and laughable lyrics are redeeming aspects. Unlike the original character in the silent film, however, Neal plays a less protective and more passive Kolya when his marriage is threatened.
Operating with one set, the actors work well with the simple yet realistic design. Aside from the essential bed and sofa, the set includes mini-sets on the wings of the thrust stage that are vital to the story’s events outside the home. Without the accurate and detailed performance of the cast, the harshness of Moscow winters would not have been so believable.
The play centers on the power of tyranny and limits of liberty, but it’s not evident until later in the story line, where Ludmilla toasts to “her Soviet sister” — the U.S.S.R. — and the men who tyrannically reign over them. When Ludmilla takes radical strides to assert her independence at the end, the audience picks up on the feminist undertones.
“Bed & Sofa” is an exciting treat for those both familiar with and ignorant of the original silent film. The harmonic trio brings to life a story of tyrannized love through sensational acting, thrilling vocals and comedic undertones, delivering a moving yet light performance of weighted material.
“Bed & Sofa” will play at The Kitchen Theatre until February 6th. Tickets are available for $28.