When audiences enter the Off-Broadstreet Theater to indulge in dessert and prepare themselves for the performance of “Bedside Manners,” a farce by the successful British playwright and actor Derek Benfield, they are greeted by a remarkably symmetrical indoor set. In the center is a high desk, with a door on the back wall behind it. We can’t see the bottom of it, but the door seems to be at a lower level than the stage. Also on the back wall, but visibly at stage level, are two more doors: one at the right and one at the left, for a total of three evenly spaced exits. At stage right and stage left studio beds sit on raised platforms, and, surprise, there are doors at the back of these spaces that presumably lead down.
When the play begins, it becomes clear that the symmetry may even extend to what takes place on this curious set. The man reclining on the stage-right bed wakes, gets up, stretches, and goes to fix his hair, staring at a non-existent mirror, presumably a full-length one, on a not-visible wall that stretches from the back of the stage to the front. When he is finished grooming (and noisily brushing his teeth), the light switches to stage left, and a man on the bed there gets up and fusses with his hair, studying how it looks in another mirror the audience can’t see — a mirror that is in an exactly parallel place to the one used by the first man. Indeed, it is likely that the mirrors are attached to two sides of the same wall. For it turns out that we are in a run-down country hotel, and the exits at the back of the set turn out to be the paths to the hotel’s halls. This opening is amusing in itself, but it also serves to alert the audience to the nature of the world it has wandered into. If there’s that much symmetry apparent in the set, then clearly symmetry is going to play a part in the action."
In charge of the hotel for the weekend is Ferris, brother of the hotel’s owner, who is reluctantly helping out his sister. He’s not thrilled by his weekend obligations, but as the action thickens, he manages to do his bit by keeping potentially dangerous events from exploding. He also manages to look out for himself by expecting to be tipped for each of his acts of collusion. Ferris is played by a long-time Off-Broadstreet favorite, Michael Iacovelli, whom regular audiences may remember from recent productions of “Don’t Dress for Dinner” or “Run for Your Wife.” Iacovelli was apparently fighting a sore throat on opening night; one can only hope he recovers quickly for performances would suffer without his knowing humor.
Each of the two hotel guests, as it happens, is using Smith as his last name. At least the two rooms are painted different colors, so that the men can be identified as the Mr. Smith in the blue room or the Mr. Smith in the green room. It turns out that the Mr. Smith in the green room is at the hotel to have a fling with Helen, a girlfriend; both he and the girlfriend happen to be married to other people. Mr. Smith in the green room is played by Patrick Andrae, a frequent Off-Broadstreet performer. Most recently he was in the company’s “Leading Ladies” and “Nobody’s Perfect.”
Mr. Smith in the blue room, Kevin Palardy, is a newcomer to Off-Broadstreet. A resident of Doylestown, Palardy appeared recently at the Kelsey Theater in Mel Brooks’ “The Producers.” The Mr. Smith in the blue room’s girlfriend is Sally, played by another Off-Broadstreet newcomer, Brooke Andrews. She performed recently at Plays in the Park, won awards for her performances in high school, and spent a year studying vocal performance at NYU before transferring to Rutgers, from which she graduated with a degree in American studies. Helen, Mr. Smith in the green room’s date, is played by Alison Quaroli, who is now up to 10 shows with Off-Broadstreet.
It would probably not be fair to the cast of “Bedside Manners” to divulge any more of the plot but readers who have picked up on the importance of symmetry to this play may very well come to the show with some serious surmises. A major difference between “Bedside Manners” and most of Off-Broadstreet’s productions is that Bob Thick is not directing; he has limited himself to designing the set and lighting, leaving the direction to Doug Kline, familiar to Off-Broadstreet audiences (and audiences from many other area venues) as an accomplished actor. It would be interesting to know if the set design preceded or followed Kline’s plans because it so clearly speaks to the plot of the play. In any case, Kline’s direction seems to the point, though perhaps not as polished as Off-Broadstreet audiences have come to expect from Thick. Costumes are by Off-Broadstreet regular Ann Raymond, and as Off-Broadstreet patrons have also come to expect, do their job well. The costumes range from sober attire for the men to occasional off-the-wall garments for the women.
“Bedside Manners,” through Sunday, February 13, Off-Broadstreet Theater, Hopewell. Evening performances on Fridays and Saturdays, and matinees on Sunday. The theater opens for dessert one hour before curtain.