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The Bedwetter

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - June 13, 2022

Photo Caption: Bebe Neuwirth and Zoe Glick
Photo by Ahron R. Foster
It's a privilege to pee, I suppose, unless you are the title character in The Bedwetter, the quirky new musical at the Atlantic Theater Company based on the memoir of Sarah Silverman, a comic performer who manages to present herself as a perfect blend of innocent demeanor and potty-mouth humor. Your appreciation of the show will depend a lot on your regard for her unconventional comedy style that is streaked with four-letter words and fart jokes. Personally, I loved it. But then, I did spend twenty years teaching middle school.

Silverman does not appear in the show, but she did write the book with Joshua Harmon, whose Prayer for the French Republic has just won both the 2022 Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk best new play awards. Silverman also co-authored the musical's lyrics with Adam Schlesinger, the show's composer, whose work you might know from the musical Cry-Baby. Sadly, Schlesinger died of complications from COVID-19 before everything was completed. David Yazbek was brought aboard as "creative consultant" to help wrap things up.

With all of these Jewish writers on hand (all right, Yazbek is only one-quarter Jewish, but close enough), it is not surprising that there is a something of a borscht-belt style to the enterprise, along with an underlying sense of outsider "otherness" and self-disparaging humor that lies within the main character, a 10-year-old by the name of Sarah (Zoe Glick).

Not since Mayim Bialik played the younger version of Bette Midler's character in the movie Beaches has there been such a perfect child-clone. Zoe Glick owns the role of Sarah, a fifth grader dealing with her newly divorced, loving but self-absorbed parents (Caissie Levy and Darren Goldstein, both terrific), a booze-hound of a nana (Bebe Neuwirth, wonderful), a sister in eighth grade (Emily Zimmerman, excellent) who refuses to be seen with her in public, and classmates at her new middle school who think she is beyond weird, if marginally acceptable in their social circle thanks to her offbeat behavior. Oh, and there is that business of regularly wetting the bed, rather embarrassing when invited to a sleepover.

Sarcasm studs both the dialog and the song lyrics. Even Sarah's Nana, who has taught her granddaughter to mix the perfect Manhattan, lets her know, in what is meant to be a comforting moment of bonding: "You're beautiful. To me.. So pretty. To me. I adore ya. Almost as much as your sister Laura."

With all of the meshugas that defines Sarah's life, things eventually become too much, and she falls into a depression. In response, her physician (Rick Crom, a delight) prescribes Xanax by the truckload and sends her on her way. (When her father questions the dosage, the doc replies: "Oh, I'm sorry. Are you also a renowned physician with very close ties to the pharmaceutical industry? Didn't think so!") And so it goes. Badda bing, badda boom.

It might be best to think of The Bedwetter as less a traditional musical than a revue or a series of strung-together episodes. Looked at through one lens, the troubles that sit on the shoulders of one little girl could be viewed as a sad tale indeed. But it hasn't been written that way, and, under Anne Kauffman's zippy direction, it isn't played that way. If it were up to me, I'd lose a plot thread about a truly devastating event in this family's lives that cannot be covered up with jokes. There also are two or three numbers that take us out of the ongoing saga altogether, including a lovely one for Caissie Levy that sounds like it might have come from the Joni Mitchell songbook. But these are issues to be dealt with for future productions, along with rethinking Laura Jellinek's spare (budget constrained?) set design, particularly if Broadway is a goal. For now, The Bedwetter comes off just fine as it is, a cleverly written musical blessed with a splendid cast. Entertaining and beautiful. To me.

The Bedwetter
Through July 3, 2022
Atlantic Theater Company
Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street
Tickets online and current performance schedule: