Dazed and Confused

All washed up: Jon Cole as Tito the valet

All washed up: Jon Cole as Tito the valet

at Bedlam Theatre
through December 16

Things are breaking up out there, as Bob Dylan observed back in September 2001, a sentiment that at the time seemed prescient until we began to realize that our culture has settled in for a stretch of low-level crises spiced with intermittent disaster (topped with the bitter icing of incoherence). These are tough times to write about, though damned if playwright Peter Papadopoulos hasn't woven together wildly disparate but topical threads in Lost Love that somehow reflect the information-loaded emotional breakdown that typifies our historical moment.

The evening begins with a rush of dissonant noise, followed by the sight of Mitzy (Kristi Ternes), dirty, wide-eyed, and bedraggled, wearing a torn wedding dress and clutching a 15-foot-high piece of debris. Ternes declaims in a shattered deadpan about the choices one faces in choosing a wedding cake, and after adding two and two we realize that her nuptials have been rudely interrupted by some sort of watery catastrophe—and that she may well be the only survivor.

Concurrent with Mitzy's plight, on the opposite end of the stage, are lesbian couple Jan (Maren Ward) and Barb (Heather Wilson). They are engaged in vigorous mutual exploration under the covers in their bedroom. It seems like a final nod to the carnal power of life before the rot sets in, because soon Jan starts talking earnestly about ignoring the electric bill and dropping out—as she puts it later, "no more holding it together."

It's vastly engaging stuff so far, particularly Ward's subdued wonder as her character begins to envision the cozy outlines of a life without worldly engagement, balanced by Wilson's angry, brassy response (an all-too-believable evocation of their "bills up the yin-yang"). Meanwhile, lest Ternes get too lonely on her perch, company arrives in the form of Tito (Jon Cole), a parking valet and fellow survivor of nature's wrath.

John Bueche's direction in this extended setup reveals an agile touch with Papadopoulos's complicated thematic lattice (materialism, romance, doom), and comedic timing that keeps the work from bogging down. Cole, for his part, manages the trick of being very funny without seeming to try very hard, staring ahead with growing horror while Ternes delivers a monologue about the existential dread of valet parking (this rattles Tito, not cataclysmic disaster or his uncertain prospects of rescue).

Appearing from time to time and intersecting with the action is Jim Stowell (billed as the Brooding-French-Art-Film-Guy), dressed in a beret and boxer shorts and loudly speculating about whether humanity might have been better off never picking up its first tool, and eventually whether our extinction would really be so worrisome in the grand scheme of things. What could easily have been a clunky conceit works, because it convinces us that such questions truly do underpin the action, and that if we can't face the possibility of our own preposterousness, Stowell (for the night) will do it for us.

The second act veers off on a tangent that, while not displeasing, doesn't score with the satisfaction we might hope for after such an auspicious beginning. Mitzy and Tito, finally rescued, are taken in by Jan and Barb through some amorphous charity, and an evening ensues that resembles a lucid dream. There's a long debate about pizza toppings, a sultry dance between Tito and the art-film guy, a dazed monologue about birds by Jan, and an inordinate amount of finagling about sleeping arrangements.

Only restrained ensemble work by the cast keeps the show's momentum from being squandered, and even then barely so. But it's never less than entertaining, and by the end this strange mix of clarity and confusion rings with minor-key truth. Love and abandonment, want and overabundance, ease and dread—they're all in here, if distorted and hard to get to at times. But, so often it seems, that's the way the story goes these days.