If you were once a child and are now an adult, you may already be familiar with that process that one day renders the bizarrely unfathomable into the mundanely inexplicable, which in every day parlance is usually referred to as “growing up.”
Derek (Mike Kosowan) is deep in mourning over the very sudden and recent death of his wife when his old friend Earl the Monster (Nick Fournier), pops back into his life after a prolonged absence to convince him to return with him to the magical Land Under the Bed (henceforth to be referred to as the Land), the site of their many great childhood adventures together.
Furry and horned, a lanky cross between Pan and Frank Zappa, Earl is scared of nothing, he informs us, and will not hesitate to eat our entrails if we cross him, yet he’s goofy and eager to please; maybe even a little needy. It’s clear that he misses his friend.
Once Derek is finally convinced to go back, he is naturally aghast to learn that the door is no longer under his old bed but right there in his filing cabinet at his soul-crushing office job. “The portal pops up under where your whole world is,” explains Earl patiently. It seems Derek’s priorities have changed over the years.
Once in the Land, it is quickly apparent that things aren’t going too well, if the state of the land squids is any barometer. Successive natural disasters, a cruel king and a captive ghost have wreaked havoc on the once happy Land. Naturally, Derek and Earl must go on a quest to rid the Land of the tyrannical king, thereby saving it and possibly Derek’s wife.
They find allies in their quest when Vanessa, a sexy bike courier armed only with a ukulele (which she is not afraid to use) is accidentally sucked down into the filing cabinet portal with them and they soon after enlist the help of a hideous and crabby bridge troll named Ogle, who manages to power through his own share of heartache.
Adventure ensues with the crossing of an ocean populated by cheesy man-eating mermaids that somehow manage to be truly (and hilariously) terrifying. Along the way, the heroes spend the night in the Cave of Regrets, which Derek doesn’t remember but is assured by Earl was always there (“we just never came here before because it sucks”), are pursued by feral dust bunnies, and learn that “the only way out is through the goo.”
There are echoes of The Neverending Story, Labyrinth and Beetlejuice in this world. The brightly painted, slightly shabby and off-kilter wooden sets and bed sheet waterfall conjure a child built fairy world now seen through the eyes of weary adulthood and the clever creatures that populate the Land have a low rent charm that perfectly fits the cracked dream logic of the place.
Joel Garrow is very funny as an unhinged, bordering on demented co-worker and Mike Connors expertly manipulates and voices the puppet Ogle. Robin Hodge, as the only female in the play who is more than a nagging voice in the background or on the telephone does a good job of communicating that Vanessa has her own inner life and issues, even if what those things might be isn’t exactly made clear. This is definitely a boy’s world.
The line readings and sound cues could have been a little tighter and the adult angst could have been better developed, but overall the performances, particularly the central pair of Derek and Earl, are convincing and the theme at the core is solid. The highlight for me was the second act flashback to a conversation that took place between Derek as a tiny child and a towering Earl. Archetypal Child and Monster, loom large in shadow as Earl in his own particular way comforts Derek through that first really horrifying realization of childhood; that one day those you love will die and so will you. This scene is so perfectly realized that it will make you wish you’d had your own Earl.
Under Derek’s Bed, produced by Dead Unicorn Ink is at Arts Court as part of the TACTICS 14-15 season. Remaining shows are from Wednesday April 22 – Saturday April 25, 2015 at 8pm. Tickets are $20 – $25 and can be purchased online. There is a pay-what-you-can show scheduled for 2pm on Saturday.