"I could die here tonight" are the first words of "Songs From an Unmade Bed" at Celebration Theatre. Luckily, they're ironically skewed. In its West Coast premiere, Mark Campbell's intimate solo show about a gay urban romantic prizes self-reflective wit over heavier issues.
Created by lyricist Campbell with 18 composers, "Songs" runs eclectically through the boudoir musings of its archetype (the excellent Dave Barrus). Designer Kurt Boetcher's airy set, the title bed angled within a proscenium of dress shirts, houses a song cycle as wryly evanescent as Tim Swiss' lighting.
Campbell has a librettist's knack for subtext. As when "An Admission" -- "I recall my disappointment / On first seeing you nude" -- cuts against composer Joseph Thalken's sweet melody, or the way Peter Golub's after-hours tune for "I Miss New York" sets up its final zinger. Campbell's best lyrics are gracefully honest, and his distinguished collaborators take their cues from them. Jake Heggie leaves opera for Broadway punch at "The Other Other Woman"; Debra Barsha goes rock-gritty in "He Never Did That Before"; and so on, with Stephen Hoffman's elegiac "Our Separate Ways" perhaps the standout composition.
Displaying the same ingenuity that buoys his bare bones "New Brain" at Rude Guerrilla, director Patrick Pearson rumples the sheets with fetching élan. Music director Jake Anthony and pajama-clad players Stephen Green (cello) and Dylan Campbell (percussion) sustain each stylistic shift, while Barrus makes a suavely engaging protagonist. Pitched directly between Stephen Bogardus and Adam Cooper, he, along with Green, is hilarious in "He Plays the Cello," arch in the post-coital edge of "A Dinner Party" and subtly acute at the melancholy moments.
The lack of a through-line is one liability and the cabaret diffuseness another. Still, if "Songs From an Unmade Bed" is rather more acerbic and accessible than deep or lingering, that hardly impedes its ingratiating charm.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times