Bed and Sofa, a 1996 Off-Broadway chamber musical by composer Polly Pen and lyricist-librettist Laurence Klavan, is often described as a “silent movie opera.”
That’s probably because it’s based on the 1927 silent film Tretya meschanskaya by Soviet filmmaker Abram Room and because, like an opera, it is through-sung. But Bed and Sofa is, in fact, a chamber musical about a love triangle, a woman awakening to her own power and the not-so-utopian lives of average Soviet citizens a decade after the revolution.
Outré Theatre Company, which relocated from Boca Raton to Fort Lauderdale’s Broward Center for the Performing Arts part-way through last season, is launching its first full season in the center’s Abdo New River Room with the challenging Bed and Sofa.
Musical director-keyboard player Caryl Fantel, violinist Luibov Ohrimenco and cellist Konstantin Litvinenko deliver a strong yet artfully shaded live version of Pen’s intricate, Russian-flavored score. Under Skye Whitcomb’s direction, three actor-singers explore the comedy, sensuality and shocking turns of the piece. The result is sometimes moving, sometimes a bit maddening, in part because the Abdo setup at times works against the show’s intimacy.
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Set in a one-room Moscow apartment in 1926, Bed and Sofa focuses on a construction worker named Kolya (Elvin Negron) and his bored wife Ludmilla (Rebeca Diaz). Ludmilla’s days are filled with cooking and cleaning the tiny flat, though an unreliable radio and movie magazines provide fleeting escapes from life’s drudgery.
But when Volodya (Noah Levine), a job-seeking former army pal of Kolya’s, is invited to crash on the couple’s sofa due to a housing shortage, Ludmilla’s restlessness finds a new expression. With Kolya out of town working for several weeks, Volodya takes his place in the couple’s bed. And when Kolya comes home, the triangle has shifted: He’s the one expected to sleep on the sofa.
Daring stuff, this, particularly when Ludmilla winds up pregnant, and both “husbands” insist she have an abortion. Bed and Sofa contains complex and mature subject matter, and parents of younger potential theatergoers should keep that in mind.
Levine, Negron and Diaz all have the voices to handle the music, through Diaz’s is lighter and sometimes overwhelmed by the men’s power when the three are singing together. Levine and Negron have some memorable solo and duet passages. Some of the lyrics, however, are deliberately repetitive. You’ll hear permutations of “bed and sofa,” even “bread and soda,” many times. Also the more chilling “the stain” and “the drain.”
The main apartment set (by Whitcomb, who also did the lighting) is a pretty dismal affair, bare-bones and with furniture that doesn’t suggest the ‘20s (or earlier). Separate areas — Volodya’s office, a platform/doctor’s office, Kolya’s job site — are similarly minimalist and disconnected, requiring the actors to go roaming among the tables where the audience is seated, dissipating focus and involvement with the unfolding story. Sabrina Lynn Gore’s costumes for Kolya and Ludmilla are effective, but Volodya’s look is too contemporary. Sound can be an issue too, as the musicians (fine as they are) at times overwhelm the singers.
Whitcomb and Gore, respectively Outré’s artistic and managing directors, are drawn to ambitious material. Bed and Sofa certainly qualifies as thematically bold and musically intricate.
If you go
What: ‘Bed and Sofa’ by Polly Pen and Laurence Klavan.
Where: Outré Theatre production in the Abdo New River Room at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale.
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Sept. 13.
Information: 954-462-0222 or www.browardcenter.org.