Titillation. That’s what brought you here, especially if you’re old enough to remember the 1969 Paul Mazursky film which fanned mileage with fans by that bed full of four in the flesh movie stars, Robert Culp, Natalie Wood, Elliot Gould and Dyann Cannon presumably naked under their communal sheets. Elliot is still working, bless him, the mischievous gleam still more than a twinkle.
That cuddlesome company was up on the big screen in glorious color, but gloryosky, here you are in the cuddlesome surrounds of the Linney Theatre at the Signature Center right practically in the same bed with them practically in pinching distance, except you know that they’re not really bare assed under the sheet. There’s decency laws in the theater, if not in politics. Well, maybe one of them but, gees, that hardly counts. In the past couple of months you’ve seen how many stretches of private – ha! – parts in how many other plays and so what? Titillation. Suckered you in.
Constantly inventive scenic designer Derek McLane nails it with a huge, shimmering wall across the thrust stage, an elegant relative of those shiny beaded curtains de rigueur for strippers making seductive entrances. Before it, director Scott Elliot places music stager Kelly Devine’s shadowed band, Jason Hart, Simon Kafka, Noelle Rueschman and Jamie Mohamdien, all presumably backing stunning Suzanne Vega as their band leader vocalist, even as she interacts with the two couples, gently mocking, not so gently mocking, a ringmaster pulling their strings, enlightened Bob (Joel Perez) and Carol (Jennifer Damiano), and their very dearest friends, not so enlightened Ted (Michael Zegen) and Alice (Ana Nogueira).
Remember Esalen, Primal Scream, Sexual Liberation and all that? No, of course you don’t. Enlightened Bob and Carol have communed their way through and thus, they are Enlightened. When Bob has what he calls an affair with a blonde, he tells his raven haired beautiful wife Carol about it. Affair is sheer aggrandizing, it was a one night stand. And enlightened Carol is perfectly all right with it. It was only sex. They still love each other. As they take of their clothes, well, almost, and demonstrate, well, somewhat, rolling around on the bed, the couch now fashioned a bed with the assist of a couple of mid-Century ottomans pushed into place. They often whip off their clothes, well, not all of course, just the usual pretending, and and also take occasional breaks for singing into an actual microphone. The old fashioned way. Frequently Band Leader Vocalist Vega hands them their microphones. It’s all very loosy goosy.
But – Ted and Alice are not Enlightened. And when Carol tells them of Bob’s affair – she’s a nice girl and does not say one night stand – unenlightened Alice is considerably perturbed. And Bob, perpetually horny, is perturbed too but in quite a different way. This is, of course, when the bed is not a bed, it is deconstructed into a couch and two handsome ottomans and their place is their space but not quite because that band is there all the time and they have microphones to sing into, or not as the case may be. With all of us waiting for the famous four in a bed scene to recreate past splendors, why else do you think the title of the show is what it is? With all its overtones? And Undertones?
The Book by Jonathan Marc Sherman is so faithful to the film that Duncan Sheik’s music seems to interrupt it in order for songs to pipe up. They are nice songs, reminiscent of the period,, somewhat in the Bacharachish mode. Everyone can sing, of course, and everyone sort of dances, all four of them, with the total lack of grace that can still be seen today at weddings and bar mitzvahs, all those moves which were so outrageous now common fare, still ridiculous, but with kindly overlays. Costume designer Jeff Mahshie has had a riot of a time – clothes are changed and/or shed dozens of times. The women fare better than the men. Dare I say it? Boring.
And when everybody finally gets into bed together, all of them Enlightened, Band Leader Suzanne Vega hovering like the Good Fairy, except for the mockery, the inevitable big payoff to all of the buildup, four in a bed, there’s a little flash of true enlightenment,one of the real moments, that visits the stage. It is very welcome.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. At the Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Tickets: $28-$103. 1 hr, 45 min. 212=249=7529. Extended thru Mar 22.
The issue is: what do two hetero couples do in one bed? Make a fun show?