Theater archives

Mark Campbell’s Lyrics and an Army of Composers Make Distant Bedfellows


For good or ill, the most striking fact about Songs From an Unmade Bed is that it is all of a piece—surely the last thing you’d expect from a work to which 17 composers have contributed. An hour-plus solo performance now running at New York Theatre Workshop, Unmade Bed is the stage equivalent of a song cycle, a collection of texts by lyricist Mark Campbell, performed by Broadway bari-tenor Michael Winther in an inventively varied staging by David Schweizer. Neil Patel’s sparse set offers only the title object, on a wheeled platform that Winther or a stagehand can pull to various angles, plus three instrumentalists and a few chairs. Campbell’s lyrics, which tend to alternate between the wry and wistful veins, are a set of snapshots from the futile but busy love life of a contemporary urban gay man, running in a technically skillful fashion through most of the standard situations: grieving for a long-gone lover, coping with one-night stands who get on your nerves, romancing a closet case, getting jittery over a possible new relationship.

Moving in a hazy middle ground between the softness of lyric poetry and the multi-rhymed cynicism of Sondheim-era theater songs, Campbell’s words make workable sense rather than striking originality. His congeries of composers seem to have responded to his words by picking the same idiom, though some come from classical music, some from the theater, and a few from pop and rock. They all set the texts sympathetically, but few of the numbers rise out of the piece with any strong musical profile. Winther sings them effectively, in a well-produced, limpid tone, while handling easily the variety of movements Schweizer’s staging gives him. What’s lacking, in both songs and performance, is any sense of the passion that would make the bed owner’s nightly pursuits worth pursuing: For a work about lovemaking, Unmade Bed conveys astonishingly little sense of love.