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‘The Bedwetter’ Shows What It’s Really Like for a Girl

A review of The Bedwetter by Ana Zambrana | June 7, 2022

I’ve never really understood Sarah Silverman, I don’t get her “quirkily” vulgar comedy, her baby-voiced delivery, or her music video about “fucking Matt Damon”. Maybe it’s a generational thing, who knows. Regardless, I was quite nervous walking into The Bedwetter, a new musical playing at the Atlantic’s Linda Gross Theatre, based on Silverman’s memoir The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee. I’ve seen so many uninventive (Mrs. Doubtfire), and misogynistic (Diana) musicals this year, I was fearful I’d be in for more of the same.

Lucky for me and all women out there, not only is The Bedwetter inventive, it is a beautiful, provocative showcase of dynamic female characters. This makes sense when you note the heavy creative female involvement, which most shows still lack. With clever direction by Anne Kauffman and Silverman writing book and lyrics (alongside the deeply missed Adam Schlesinger), the female presence off-stage enhanced the nine extremely talented women on stage. I mean come on – having nine out of the cast of eleven being women is so refreshing, especially for a play not revolving around #girlbossing. No, these women are imperfect and fuck up…a lot.

Silverman tackles mental health, family trauma, and frenemy dynamics, all while telling a coming-of-age story through her ten-year-old self. These dense, weighty themes are delivered with Silverman’s trademark crude comedy and Schlesinger’s upbeat pop show-tune musical stylings, which leave you truly never knowing what to expect.

A ten-year-old Sarah is our tour guide for this two-hour carnival ride of a musical. She immediately greets the audience, who begin the musical sitting from the perspective of her new classmates. You see, Sarah has just moved to a new town after her parents’ divorce, and is excited by the prospect of making new friends. While Sarah, played by the charming lighting bolt that is Zoe Glick, zooms through her introductory speech, she is censored by her hilariously angry warden-like teacher Mrs. Dembo (played by the scene-stealing Ellyn Marie Marsh). It’s quickly established that Sarah is awkward and probably going to get bullied by the kids in school.. and she promptly does.

What is beautiful, though, is how she handles the bullying by our three Heathers-like characters Ally, Amy & Abby. In “I Couldn’t Agree More,” while the trio spews insults at Sarah, she simply lets them roll off her sleeve and agrees with them. This of course annoys the mean girls but charms them all the same. At the end of the day, it even ends with them all being friends. There is a lovely realism to this moment, and it is the first instance of a theme that Silverman embeds through the storyline – one that is rarely touched on in women and especially in the taboo time period that is female puberty: how important it is to embrace your oddities. 

Silverman’s family is the catalyst for this strong sense of self to be so present in the ten-year-old Sarah. They give her nothing but love, with a side of dirty jokes that Sarah stores and shares with her classmates. In “To Me” Sarah’s biggest supporter, her Nana, effortlessly embodied by the iconic Bebe Neuwirth, showers Sarah with caveated, hilarious compliments. While there is nothing but support from Sarah’s Nana, father, and mother, that is not the case for the adults’ relationships with each other. Sarah’s elegant mother Beth Ann (Cassie Levy) and Sarah’s factory outlet owning dad Donald (Darren Goldstein), or as you may know him “Crazy Donny”, are divorced because of the death of their son. The death sent Beth Ann into a depression leaving her bedridden, which in turn sent Donald to cheat on Beth Ann with a menagerie of women – a history he directly addresses in “In My Line of Work.”

Even though Beth Ann is physically in a bed for 95% of the play, her delight in diction and plosives is never lost. Her distinct, specific characterization gives us a window into the woman she once was, and how the monster that is depression took her away. After intermission, we get to see this happen in real-time with our once electric lead, whose titular bedwetting issue triggers the onset of her clinical depression. In front of our eyes, we see the light dim from the once glimmering Sarah. When she, like her mom, climbs into bed and loses all will to get out, her loving family rallies together to reignite her spark. Though the music stalls out occasionally when it shifts into a more earnest, emotional gear, the treatment of a dysfunctional family struggling to deal with an onset of mental illness in a vibrant, lovable ten-year-old feels authentic and thoughtful, and only solidifies the way in which the show deals with complex themes with empathy.

In an age of men marketing cash-grabbing faux-feminist pieces (again, Diana) that attempt to shoehorn trauma and deep themes into buzzy stories, The Bedwetter pushes a grounded narrative that peels the yellow wallpaper down and gives an intimate look into how one of the ’00s most visible, distinct comic voices came to be. Though The Bedwetter still hasn’t made me want to be a Silverman Stan, it’s given me a new appreciation for the odd mix of traits that make up the comedian’s public persona and even made me want to be a part of the Silverman family. Silverman should be extremely proud of the piece she has created, it poignantly unveils the realities of what it’s really like when a girl grows up.

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