Thursday, June 23, 2022

Theater Review: Sarah Silverman’s New Musical, “The Bedwetter,” is Bawdy and Sentimental in Equal Measure

The Bedwetter (c) Ahron R. Foster

Theater Review: The Bedwetter 
Atlantic Theater Company 

Premise: Comedian Sarah Silverman adapts her own memoir “The Bedwetter” into a musical, co-writing the book with Joshua Harmon and the songs with the late composer Adam Schlesinger of the band Fountains of Wayne. Focusing only on the events in the memoir that give the musical its name, we meet young Sarah (Zoe Glick), who is going to a new school in New Hampshire after the divorce of her parents: her clothes salesman and lothario father Donny (Darren Goldstein) and her mother Beth Ann (Caissie Levy), whose depression keeps her bedridden. But Sarah seems to be handling everything fine, trying to fit in with her new classmates (Charlotte Elizabeth Curtis, Charlotte MacLeod, Margot Weintraub) with her brash humor and keeping things running smoothly at a home that includes her sister Laura (Emily Zimmerman) and her alcoholic grandmother Nana (Bebe Neuwirth). So, it’s a bit of a surprise that Sarah and not the more emotional Laura is the one suffering from the nocturnal enuresis. But stress, as much as Sarah wants to not admit it, has a way of seeping into her life. 

My Take: Maybe because it’s the similar theme of a young girl suffering with a medical problem, adapted into a musical on the same Atlantic Theater Stage, but comparisons to the much superior “Kimberly Akimbo” are unfortunately inevitable. That play, which also splits its time between home and school and doctor’s office, had a better handle on its unconventional heroine and the people who love her. Silverman may have been too close to the material to adapt it. 10-year-old Sarah arrives on stage as potty-mouthed and rude (in an innocent way) as current day Sarah, but the characterization never really goes deeper than that, even when her secret is leaked out. At that point, she is prescribed Xanax, and even though I appreciated the break from Glick’s over-enthusiastic acting choices, the change in tone from irreverent to sentimental is a bit jarring. Not sure why Silverman and her collaborators didn’t have Sarah dealing with the drug in a more cheeky way in Sarah’s mind, but it does give the other actors more time on stage to shine, including the yeoman work of Rick Crom, Ellyn Marie Marsh and Ashley Blanchet, who expertly play various roles, including doctors, teachers and even the beauty contestant Miss New Hampshire. The songs by Silverman and Schlesinger (with contributions by composer David Yazbek) are sometimes hysterically rude and dirty, but others feel like fillers to give every minor character a moment to sing. Ultimately, I was able to just focus on the funny moments, and there is much to like in a show that can’t contain everything it wants to be about. 

The Bedwetter (c) Ahron R. Foster

VIP: Bebe Neuwirth. According to her bio, Neuwirth’s last musical was Broadway’s “The Addams Family” in 2010, doing mostly TV and film work, most notably “Madame Secretary” and the occasional stage role. So, it’s nice to see her back on stage with a small but memorable role of the boozy and surprisingly sympathetic Nana. Her one solo song is quite good, but it’s her part in the Act One finale and the aftermath that gives Neuwirth the dramatic arc needed among all the zaniness. It’s great to have her back on stage.

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