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Theater Review

'Bed and Sofa' Richly Adapts Soviet Silent Film to Stage


The tiny Moscow apartment has on one wall, prominently placed, a Stalin calendar. It is part of "the world inside," along with "The bed. The sofa. The brush. The water. The wash."

These terse opening lines introduce us to a curious three-character "silent movie opera" known as "Bed and Sofa." It's receiving a richly sung West Coast premiere courtesy of Long Beach's International City Theatre.

Three-character silent movie operas do not come around weekly. "Bed and Sofa" is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of Abram Room's controversial 1926 Soviet feature, a disarming Slavic precursor to Noel Coward's "Design for Living."

A housing crunch afflicts Stalin's Moscow. Construction supervisor Volodya (Tim Maloney) and his wife, Ludmilla (Emily Kosloski), take in Kolya (Scott Dicken), a printer friend of Volodya's, new to the city. Kolya needs an address in order to get work. "We'll take the bed and you the sofa," Ludmilla says.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday May 19, 2000 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Theater review--In Wednesday's review of "Bed and Sofa" at the International City Theatre, the occupations of the characters Volodya (Tim Maloney) and Kolya (Scott Dicken) were incorrectly identified. Kolya is the construction supervisor; Volodya is the printer.

Volodya's called out of town on business. Soon Kolya makes a play for Ludmilla. The feeling is mutual. Volodya ends up taking the sofa while his wife and his friend take the bed. Yet the male friends enjoy each other's company; they play checkers, nightly, while Ludmilla's sidelined, wondering if all men in the USSR are destined to treat women this way. Her pregnancy evinces an immediate call for an abortion from both men, but. . . .

Composer Polly Pen collaborated on "Bed and Sofa" (which premiered off-Broadway in 1996) with librettist Laurence Klavan. An earlier, two-character Pen musical, "Goblin Market" (1985), was adapted from a poem by Christina Rossetti, exploring a similarly repressive atmosphere as inhabited by Victorian-era sisters. Pen's latest, "Night Governess," takes its cue from pulp fiction written by Louisa May Alcott. The world premiere, staged by Lisa Peterson of the Mark Taper Forum, is running this month at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J.

Clearly, Pen gravitates toward unconventional source material. Her score for "Bed and Sofa," played here--and well--on piano, violin, viola and cello, is at its best expressively quirky, rhythmically unpredictable. It's not easy music to love; the weaker passages fall prey to a dogged quality, unfortunately heightened throughout by Klavan's lyrics. On film "Bed and Sofa" is simplicity itself, yet it has a tone all its own. The theatrical-musical version is simple as well, but its methods of locating a silent film aesthetic for the stage call for a lot of reiterative inventory-taking, as each character takes stock of the apartment's details, along with the facts of their increasingly involved situation.

Even if it feels more like a stunt than an achievement, "Bed and Sofa" nonetheless comes from a composer well worth tracking. The ICT production, directed by caryn morse desai, affords adventurous audiences an accomplished first look at (and listen to) this piece.

Kosloski's Ludmilla comes off best overall, her vocals capturing Pen's zigzagging modernist lines with ease. (There is, however, a sensual component to the material she has yet to tap.) Dicken's wide-eyed Kolya and Maloney's loutish Volodya don't find much nuance in the acting--even in the chosen, heightened silent-movie realm--but they harmonize forcefully.

Which begs the question: Why is this show amplified? Here we have a case of performers sporting head-mikes for no reason. None. The audience-actor proximity doesn't demand it. The style of the material doesn't warrant it. The string instrumentation doesn't require it.

So ditch 'em.

* "Bed and Sofa," International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends June 4. $22-$35. (562) 436-4610. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

Emily Kosloski: Ludmilla

Scott Dicken: Kolya

Tim Maloney: Volodya

Christy Crowl, Marjorie Poe, Mike Harrison, Donita Ragan, Sarah O'Brien: Musicians

Libretto by Laurence Klavan. Music by Polly Pen. Directed by caryn morse desai. Musical directors Christy Crowl and Marjorie Poe. Choreographer Janet Roston. Scenic design by Bradley Kaye. Costumes by Shon LeBlanc. Lighting by Paulie Jenkins. Sound by Paul Fabre. Stage manager Michael Alan Ankney.

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