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Edinburgh Fringe 2023

Bad Play

Big Tobacco

Genre: Comedy, Fringe Theatre, New Writing, Satire, Theatre

Venue: theSpaceUK


Low Down

Set in your average nonspecific town, in your average nonspecific time period, Bad Play is a send-up of the American “living-room drama” with an absurd edge. It’s a delirious love letter to Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, and theatrical self-seriousness brought to you by four comedians who have been satirizing genres in LA for over six years. Now they’re taking on American theatre with a play that both mocks and celebrates the storied art form. Bad Play is better than good, it’s Bad.


At Bad Play the jokes begin before the audience is seated. A playbill handed to queueing Fringegoers announces the 2023 season of Big Tobacco, the fictional theatre company ostensibly producing Bad Play, and scheduled in their imaginary upcoming season is an all-day Christmas Day production of Angels in America Jr. 

That level of knowing sass whet my appetite for what was to come, but, unfortunately, at least for me, not enough moments in the actual show rose to that bar. 

Not that the show is bad. It’s just not bad enough. And by that I mean this deconstruction of the sacred cow that is the American living-room drama has loads of potential that here remains too much unmined; these Bad Play butchers are going to need to bring sharper knives for this bovine. Time to bring out the whetstone.  

The game cast of four plays a classic nuclear family dressed from some time in the middle of the last century (the press release says the show is set in a nonspecific time period, but, with the exception of the occasional anachronism and one of the quartet, it all feels quite specific), with a father (Brian Fitzgerald), a mother (Lyndsey Kempf), and two sons, one of whom, Noble (Eli Lutsky), is an emotionally damaged solider returning home from war. The other son is also having a homecoming, but that’s because he is being released from prison, and his name is Bad Brad. Bad Brad is played by understudy Brad Beidelman, filling in for an absent Jack Nicholson. Unlike the others, Bad Brad wears all black and speaks almost entirely in California surfer-guy monotone, intimating that prison is a lot like Los Angeles.   

The nods and references to Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill are immediately apparent and set the tone, though I did (and do) wonder about the absence of Tennessee Williams, the other American titan playwright of that era. Maybe the show purposefully omits Williams to focus on and spoof the hyper-masculinity of Miller and O’Neill; one of the best bits highlights the fact that none of the other characters can remember the mother’s name.

The entire ensemble has great comic timing and a wonderful zest for the absurd. But often the Bad Play characters toss in profanities and modern-day references that elicit chuckles from various audience members but feel out of place given the period being satirized. What I craved during this performance, and what will likely serve future iterations of this work, is greater specificity. Bad Play needs to lean in to O’Neill’s stage use of booze and repetition, needs to plunge into Miller’s moralizing and his guilt. I urge these Bad Play players to dig in, dig in, dig in, because with greater focus and clarity, Bad Play can be really, truly, tantalizingly bad.