by Margret Echeverria
Everyone knows that the price of love is to cultivate our representative and hide our real selves, Right? Knowing this is a fallacy, few of us dare to really test it. Some lucky ones make the reveal of their true selves early in life and shine like stars. In The Bedwetter, Sarah Silverman, Joshua Harmon and Adam Schlesinger‘s musical about a ten year old girl’s shame, this theory is proven: The audience comes away in love with the very human, flawed and guilty characters expoosed in Silverman’s autobiographical story.
The curtain rises on a fourth grade classroom in New Hampshire in 1980 where Sarah (Zoe Glick) arrives as the new kid just after the divorce of her parents. She and her sister, Laura (Emily Zimmerman), now live with dad, Donald (Darren Goldstein), who is working out his midlife crises through a series of ladies with giant hair, satin pants and flashy wedding rings. Donald is that boomer parent who raises his Generation X daughters with more information than they ever asked for. Thanks to her dad, Sarah is ready to make new friends with grown up jokes and a colorful vocabulary. Mrs. Dembo (Ellyn Marie March) is wide and loud mouthed as she runs a tight classroom through a thick New Hampshire accent and the threat of The Sideways Glance of Death. Her most accomplished student became Miss New Hampshire 1980 and the teacher is looking for another student with talents to mold. She doesn’t know that Sarah is a sleeper. Ally (Charlotte Elizabeth Curtis), Abby (Charlotte MacLeod) and Amy (Margot Weintraub), clad in plaid and prairie patterns with ruffles, hair in braids, pigtails and blonde ringlets inspect Sarah at arms’ length with magnifying-glass-to-sidewalk-ant focus on her denim, Mork From Ork suspenders and straight dark hair. Weintraub has an eye roll that will make you check the tip of your nose for gook.
All three throw insults which Sarah flips into great attributes – “I’m the type of kid that’s too Jew-y to ignore!” If you’re a Sarah Silverman fan, you will notice that Glick’s body is electrified the same way as our beloved present day comedienne. We can almost see her toes wiggle in her sneakers and her belly leap to her heart as she lands a punch line. Her eyes shine with discovery of the utterly absurd world that surrounds her as her head bops forward like a mockingbird with no unnatural effort. Oh . . . and Glick’s voice is perfectly cast as the girl who must have your attention right now. She wins until the mean girls discover her weak bladder and Sarah is thrown out of the club house.
There are so many great performances in this show. Rick Crom plays multiple roles, giving us the quinticential quack mental health professionals of the New Age and also a perfect Johnny Carson. Charlotte Elizabeth Curtis is so young, yet she captures the many layers and notes of that kid who was so terrified in elementary school that she picked at your imperfections until the blood attracted the other wolves who left her alone. Goldstein could have just been the cliche dad thrown from the sexy seventies into the pudgy bellied ’80’s (it was all the fat free carbs, People), but there is a stunning scene where he plunges into the emotional darkness with Glick. My velvet seat disappeared; I felt like a mouse in the corner of someone else’s life.
Let us take moment to say, Fuck you, Covid. This is the last musical Adam Schlesinger created because the virus took him even before the first rehearsal. His lyrics and music are uniquely drole deftly applied to a structure needing no spectacle. The Bedwetter has a lot to say about grief, the stigma of mental health, loving through the alienation of divorce, alcoholism, child development, bullying, self-deprecation, parenting and oh yeah, bedwetting. Silverman, Harmon and Schlesinger dive in making you grab for the glasses that got so wet while you were laughing just after crying that you dropped them in between the seats . It is not fair that this genius collaboration is now one human short.
Everything Nana (Bebe Neuwirth) does makes me greedy for more. Neuwirth performs as though it is not work. She is totally vulnerable as this tender yet cynical grandmother who drinks a lot, and makes some crushing mistakes. She weaves determination through a tapestry of humor, love and truth. Beth Ann (Caissie Levy), Sarah’s mother, is a different kind of matriarch. She feels everything so much that it regularly paralyzes her. Levy breaks your heart when she apologizes for being depressed and then defends her daughter’s right to be depressed. Levy brings a powerhouse to this role. The end lesson here is that pain and death are inevitable, but there is every reason to enjoy yourself anyway.
Enjoy yourselves by going to see The Bedwetter.
THE BEDWETTER, Directed by Anne Kauffman, Book by Joshua Harmon & Sarah Silverman, Lyrics by Adam Schlesinger & Sarah Silverman, Music by Adam Schlesinger, Creative Consultant David Yazbek, Choreography by Byron Easley.
WITH Ashley Blanchet (Miss New Hampshire), Rick Crom (Dr. Grimm/Dr. Riley), Charlotte Elizabeth Curits (Ally), Zoe Glick (Sarah), Darren Goldstein (Donald), Caissie Levy (Beth Ann), Charlotte MacLeod (Abby), Ellyn Marie March (Mrs. Dembo), Bebe Neuwirth (Nana), Margot Weintraub (Amy), Emily Zimmerman (Laura).
Through July 3, Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street, New York, NY (Atlantic Theatre Company). Get Tickets here. Or call 646-989-7996.