It’s hard to imagine a world in which the feral and defiantly profane heroine of Bed, Echo Theater Company’s provocative new relationship melodrama, might be happily domesticated by a husband, hearth and home.
Star Kate Morgan Chadwick makes a mesmerizing entrance as Holly, half crawling, half dragging herself like a rabid animal in a full circuit around designer Se Oh’s trash-strewn platform-bed set. When she proceeds to drunkenly size up the hapless Cliff (TW Leshner), her bearded pickup for the evening, as being skinny like Jesus, it is clear that we have entered the raunchily off-kilter universe of playwright Sheila Callaghan (That Pretty Pretty; or, The Rape Play), where women behaving badly is the norm. “It’s OK,” Holly says to soothe Cliff's ego. “I wanted to fuck Jesus when I was 16.”
In chronicling Holly and Cliff’s 10-year relationship and Holly’s rise from obscurity as a New York punk guitarist to international fame as a shredder-balladeer, Callaghan shrewdly zeroes in on the bed — and rather explicitly how Holly transgresses in it — to frame her portrait of a marriage under the strain of success and the reversal of normative gender roles.
Thanks to the vibrant energy of director Jennifer Chambers’ clever sleight-of-hand staging, but mostly due to Chadwick’s conclusive and full-blooded portrayal of a character that comes off as sort of a charismatic, riot grrrl–reoriented Courtney Love by way of Kathleen Hanna, Callaghan’s invention of a 21st-century stage heroine that aggressively articulates her desire in the vulgar terms ordinarily associated with the masculine comes tantalizingly close to working.
Unfortunately, both Cliff, as an aspiring novelist passively languishing in Holly’s shadow, and the character of JC (Johnathan McClain), who arrives during the second half to roil the marriage, are so blandly and unconvincingly underwritten as to constitute being dramatically AWOL. Callaghan provides enough poetic lift in her language for the oversight to not prove fatal, but any love story in which the audience is unable to fall in love with both lovers is certainly a draft shy of perfection.
Bed, Echo Theater Company at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village; through March 13. (310) 307-3753, echotheatercompany.com.