Stage Notes: The Bereaved

Tom Murrin

With Southern Promises, Purity, Cleansed and others, Thomas Bradshaw has struck a tender nerve in downtown theatergoers. Some say, “Wait a minute, that’s going too far.” Actually, his plays are exciting and fun to watch. He knows how to write a script that moves fast, in a real world, where something dramatic will undoubtedly happen, and more than once. Who doesn’t relish the feeling of electricity when something transgressive and unforeseen occurs on stage? Live theater like Bradshaw’s is a rare joy. May Adrales is directing is latest, The Bereaved. I recently spoke with the provocative playwright.

Hi Tom, what is this one about?
It’s about a wealthy New York family; the wife is a rich lawyer and the husband is an adjunct professor, and they have a 15-year-old son. She supports all of them, and she wins a big case. She comes home and the husband is writing a book, “The History of Mao and The Communist Revolution." He’s doing coke and she decides to celebrate her court victory with him. She has a heart attack and they have to go to the hospital.

Oh boy, that’s definitely the beginning of a Bradshaw play.
They don’t have any life insurance, and they’re both paying off hundreds of thousands in student loans. So the play is really about the consequences of their situation.

So that’s the opening; without going too far into it, what happens next?
It becomes clear that she’s going to die; she has triple bypass surgery but gets a staph infection. And she starts trying to dictate what her son and husband's lives are going to be after she dies. She wants her husband to marry her best friend, an Asian psychologist, who she assumes will be financially able to take care of her husband and son. She dies. And everything else I’m about to tell you –-

Don’t tell me. I want to be horrifyingly surprised like the rest of the audience. I hear Jenny Seastone Stern is in it. She’s one of my favorite actors. She played a goat in one of Erin Courtney’s plays. She’s been in a couple of your plays.
She plays the girlfriend of the son. Andrew Garman is the husband, KK Moggie is the psychologist, Brian D. Coats is the drug dealer, Vincent Madero is the son.

Your works are called “shocking”; how do you relate to that?
It’s true that they are shocking. I was always surprised at that when I first started writing plays. I understand it now. But the things I write about were the things I thought were a part of our world. But I came to realize that we’ve been in this moment of “psychological realism” (in the theater) for about a hundred years, or somewhat, now. People talk about it as if it’s “truth on stage." But I think it’s pure artifice. The idea of characters being aware of their actions and explaining their motives in detail to the audience -– I don’t think people are that self-aware. My characters don’t explain to the audience why they’re doing what they are doing. Their motivations are clear, but they’re not psychological in the way audiences would expect. I think this is much closer to the way we experience life.

I understand you went to London to meet various artistic directors of theater companies.
I met someone from The Royal Court. He likes my play, Dawn, about an old alcoholic who realizes the errors of his ways and makes amends to his family. He wanted me to meet someone but not to tell this person a plot synopsis of the play. He said, “It’s the way you tell stories that is so surprising. It’s in the details.” That was very illuminating to me. The details give texture to the play. And this is what people are interested in, and this is what they talk about afterwards.

The Wild Project, 195 E. 3rd St., (212) 279-4200. Sept 3-26, Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m. $20.

Photo by Louis Changchien

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