For an actor, playing a part in Enda Walsh’s “Bedbound” must be like running a marathon every night. For an hour and 10 minutes, its two players—a father and his crippled daughter, trying to sleep in the same cramped, filthy bedroom—are ranting, keening, or reacting silently to each other’s torrent of words with an intensity that seems ultimately unsustainable.
“Bedbound,” a production of the Inis Nua Theatre Company now playing at the Adrienne in Philadelphia, is the story of a man whose ambition, formed when he is very young, is to be king of the furniture business in Cork and, later, in Dublin. And he is willing to do anything, including the most unspeakable acts of perversion and violence, to achieve his desires. He delivers the story of his life—the violence, calculated sex, even marriage in the service of his dream–in agitated monologues aimed at the audience while his daughter, bedbound by polio as the result of a freak fall into a sewage tank, acts them out, playing the roles of the boss and the underlings her father has killed. Or has he? The unbelievable is somehow believable in this brutal and, yes, often funny play.
He had been grooming her to follow in his footsteps when she contracted the disease that has left her with a still, twisted arm, a hunched back, and paralyzed legs. His shame led to his nightly ritual of remodeling his home so that her room has become progressively smaller and smaller, as though he were building her a coffin. In that room, her now dead mother once slept beside her and read to her from romance novels, hushing her fears that the walls are closing in on her by telling her that it was “all a fairy tale.”
For the young girl, played in the Inis Nua’s production by Melissa Lynch, the stories, as horrifying as they are, are life to her. “What am I if not words? I am empty space is what I am,” she says. And it’s the empty spaces, the rare moments of silence, that bring the most terror to these two tortured characters who, in the end, turn to talk to one another, ending this emotionally exhausting play with an unexpected and poignant note of redemption and hope.
Brian McCann, who plays the father, deftly draws a character who is both despicable and strangely endearing, a psychopath with a sense of humor and, as McCann subtly suggests, perhaps even a heart of gold. Melissa Lynch’s performance as the physically twisted daughter of an emotionally twisted man is a tour de force. She ranges from helpless cripple to crotchety boss to obsequious underling to angry daughter so seamlessly that it’s as if she has multiple personalities constantly jockeying for center stage. Even when the father is raving loudly, your eyes are riveted to her face for her reaction, as though everything you needed to know was there.
Director Tom Reing has done a masterful job in bringing a difficult and demanding play to the stage. “Bedbound” is an emotionally taxing play for both actors and theater-goers, but is ultimately touching, satisfying, and memorable in the best possible way.
“Bedbound,” by Enda Walsh, runs through April 25 at the Playground at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call 215-454-9776 or order online at the Inis Nua Theatre’s Web site.