As I settled in here at Bedlam Theatre with my “West Bank” (Black Label beer and cold press coffee, which is exactly as fucked-up and awesome as it sounds), a Fringer approached me and told me that he couldn’t disagree with any part of my review of Kathy Jensen is Pretty—but that he liked that show a lot more than I did. He was simply so impressed with Jensen’s presence and performance that somehow the show’s technical flaws just didn’t matter.
That’s the point I’ve reached with just about everyone in the cast of Bedlam’s Fringe show Superlatives of Excellence. I really can’t imagine a scenario where Maren Ward, Tom Lloyd, George McConnell, Elise Langer, Paige Collette, and Carly Wicks are all in a show together and it’s not a show worth seeing. Jason Vogen and Christopher Allen I was less familiar with before Superlatives, but they’re great too. Then there’s the young Forrest Zoll, who steals the show. And I’ve gone and befriended most of that lot, so you should not look to me for a detached critical view of their show.
That said, even if you don’t share my brand-name devotion to the Bedlam/Four-Humors/Cat-Fish axis of amazing, there’s still a lot for you in Superlatives of Excellence. Under the guise of a hapless presentation by Josef Evans (Ward) in his grandparents’ garage, Superlatives features four excerpts from plays written by the real-life Evans—who sits at stage right playing a keyboard. Evans’s absurd wit is a perfect match for Bedlam, and in fact all of the excerpts were previously produced by Bedlam in plays staged between 2004 and 2009.
All the pieces take familiar tropes (God vs. Satan, international espionage, verb tenses), and use them as points of departure for scenarios that begin in ridiculousness and end in death, or sex, or catshit hotdish. That makes Evans’s writing sound more random than it actually is; actually, his pieces are textbook examples of how to do silliness right. He grounds his ludicrous scenarios in recognizable characters, embodied and made instantly sympathetic by the Bedlam players. Less accomplished efforts at this sort of thing take characters who have so little connection to reality that the audience loses interest. Here, even Satan (Collette) wins empathy, as she writhes violently across the stage in reaction to the godawful (so to speak) balladeering of the Almighty (Vogen). Wouldn’t you?
If you had any doubts that Bedlam will survive its transition to a new space, Superlatives of Excellence should put those doubts to rest. Bedlam’s current home is a fantastic space, and the entire theater community will miss it—but Bedlam Theatre isn’t a space, or even an organization, it’s a state of mind. That said, tip your servers well.