McKenna Kerrigan and Andrew Garman in The Bereaved
(© Louis Changchien)
McKenna Kerrigan and Andrew Garman in The Bereaved
(© Louis Changchien)
One thing that playwright Thomas Bradshaw cannot be accused of is not knowing the meaning of "don't go there." And indeed, while The Bereaved, now at the Wild Project, goes "there," it's also unclear exactly, where "there" is. On the surface, Bradshaw's newest piece is about a woman named Carol (McKenna Kerrigan) who, afraid that she's terminally ill, frets over the financial and emotional well-being of her family. But rather than create a serious drama, Bradshaw rarely demonstrates that he's trying to be more than a naughty provocateur.

Indeed, what's missing from this quick summary of the plot is the semen-drenched underwear, the flung condoms, and the naked white man (Andrew Garman) who wears blackface while anally raping his lover (KK Moggie) because she likes it that way. Tying this all together is a story of drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, and racism, told in a style that parodies the classic cautionary tale. But to make this sort of play work requires a confident command of language that Bradshaw hasn't yet mastered.

Bradshaw appears to be shooting for a kind of hyperrealism, perhaps similar to playwright Richard Maxwell, with whom he has worked as an actor. But whereas Maxwell transforms the ordinary rhythms of life into often extraordinary art that is at once real and stylized, Bradshaw takes the ordinary and makes it ordinary. The play is darkly funny now and then -- especially when a character's train of thought suddenly leaps the track and veers off in an unexpected direction -- but that's pretty much the game. At the end, we're left with a series of vignettes that try to top each other in sheer outrageousness.

It would help a little if all of director May Adrales' actors were working on the same page. Kerrigan, Moggie, Vincent Madero, Jenny Seastone Stern, and especially Brian D. Coats -- who takes the role of a Harlem drug dealer right out of 1970s Hollywood and plays it dangerously, squeamishly straight -- really seem to believe in their characters. But Garman, who plays Carol's husband, Michael, hasn't similarly committed himself to this level of hyperrealism. There's still a distance there, as if the actor can't quite believe what he's got himself into -- even if one cannot necessarily blame him.

But the main problem with The Bereaved is that the playwright's primary goals seem to be shock and giggles, which gets wearisome after awhile.