Bedwetter: the Musical
“It’s a rated-R lovely show.” “It’s for New York kids.” “It’s for parents and their kids who let their kids see cool things.” “You know, if you let your kids see Bridesmaids, which I hope you did, then you bring your kids to this.” “Yes, there is language in it.” “Or even a movie like Bad News Bears that I remember seeing as a kid and thinking was hysterical. And then I remember that my mom took me to that. It was a great thing to do! Little kids cursing…” “This is where art gets leeway, or should get leeway.”
Those recommendations for Bedwetter: the musical by Sarah Silverman, Joshua Harmon and Adam Schlesinger with David Yazbek, are from the writers themselves (minus Mr.Schlesinger). I didn’t see it! and I can’t find a script anywhere…maybe it is getting re-worked for a Broadway run. Hmm…in that case it will be a few years before we get to think about whether we are okay with dirty jokes from the mouths of grandmas and grandkids voiced by your very own middle schoolers at a school play! Would you do a theater version of Bad News Bears? We will pair that with Bridesmaids for a double feature with the whole family this weekend and let you know how it goes.
The New Yorker critic that reviewed it did a wonderful job of summing up the constant dilemma of adults who want to see and read things with kids.
It involves the trials and tribulations of a ten-year-old, but it’s not exactly what you’d call child-appropriate. No duh: it’s a Sarah Silverman production. There’s cursing and sex jokes, an alcoholic grandma and a potty-mouthed beauty queen; in my own youth, Tipper Gore would have slapped the cast album with one of those parental-advisory stickers which worked like catnip on the developing prefrontal cortex. But what does “child-appropriate” mean, anyway? Grownups are always sanitizing childhood for their own preachy purposes. “The Bedwetter” deals both with adults’ failures and weaknesses and with kids’ inhumanity to kids. It’s also goofy, sweet, and hopeful in a way that may make budding cynics roll their eyes but touched the heart of this aging one.
Joshua Harmon was the playwright part of the Bedwetter team. I don’t know which of those recommendations at the top of the page up there were his. Was it his mom that took him to Bad News Bears? As a mom who takes my kids to stuff regularly, but much more regularly watches movies with my kids - I can tell you that his mom did not see Bad News Bears before she took him to it so she probably did not know what she was getting into. That language shocked, and maybe delighted, her as much as it did him. Wait. I take that back. I just watched the 1976 trailer. Did she see the trailer? The kids don’t say much at all in that trailer, but the few words that do come out of their mouths are much worse than anything a modern adult could come up with. Please watch it and tell me if you would take your kids to see the movie. Then show it to your parents and ask them to think back to 1976. Would they have taken a kid to see it then?
I would love to hear Joshua Harmon talk about how young he imagines his audience to be for A Prayer for the French Republic. When a character younger than 25 has a significant and interesting part in a play, I take that as an indication that the playwright speaks kid; and is therefore interested in speaking to kids. You know what, I will ask that question about what kinds of heartiness are necessary to watch A Prayer for the French Republic next time. Back to bedwetting.
Sarah Silverman speaks kid. She speaks foul-mouthed kid; and desires to speak to kids with her foul-mouth. In Bedwetter the book, in a chapter called My More Moving Violations, Sarah Silverman describes being suspended by the ankles out a 12th story window by a college student in her sister’s dorm when she was 13 years old. At the end of the section she puts that seemingly bizarre incident into a context that was eye-opening for me:
The kind of horseshit he had pulled probably happens to kids all of the time, and it’s a bummer. Whatever mistakes my parents made, they always tried not to damage me. They never hit me; they encouraged me, and gave me love in the best way they knew how, and when I suffered, they worried, tried to help, and took me to doctors. And still, just by leaving the house, I could get gang assaulted on a cafeteria tabletop or dangled out a fucking twelfth-story window by some drugged out psychopath. I’m just saying, it’s a kick in the pants, you know?
When I first read the book the gang assault on the cafeteria tabletop - so the perpetrators could shove lunchmeat into her vegetarian mouth - struck me as an awful and common kid-trauma. The other traumatic incident that made her into a vegetarian - her father taking her to choose a Thanksgiving turkey, that she then saw swiftly grabbed and killed - was another fairly usual, definitely awful kid-trauma. But the hanging outside the window incident. On first read, that one appeared to me several levels of magnitude more awful and definitely super rare. And then I read that end of chapter summary and realized she is right. Similar horseshit did happen to most all of the people I know.
So, if a solid chunk of the kid population is sorting similar mini- and mega- traumas, what does seeing a play like Bedwetter do for them? or do to them? The vast majority of the book happens after Sarah Silverman leaves home for college. I don’t see any evidence of that material in the production photos. Phew! I would read my kids the whole book, but would have to employ some high-skill hopskotch skipping. It seems this writing team just decided to do one monster long jump from high school to the present day. Thank goodness. I know from experience that telling kids to hum and close their eyes does not work when attending the theater.
But the most upsetting stuff, the hard stuff for kids, is not in the book much, but is fully fleshed out in the play. I imagine some of it will go over kids’ heads - like the 15 year old girl + 50 year old man romantic pairings that happen often and much in Evita - the dad that has a lot of sexual relationships with women a lot younger than him might not be explained clearly enough for kids to get it. But other hard stuff will be clear.
Oh my goodness! I am on the edge of my seat for this one. I am going to take all of the kids, no matter what the age, and then deal with the fall-out after the show. My 10 year old already sounds astoundingly like his grandma when he says, “ahh shit” when the compost bag breaks. Will he take a cue from Sarah Silverman’s grandma and add “easy peesy, tittie squeezie” to his vocabulary. I will let you know.
A copy of the play won’t be available for a while, but if you want a copy of the book, I would love to send you one and hear what you think. I read it first and then listened to the audiobook so I could hear Sarah Silverman’s voice. Let me know if you want that duo and I will send you both. It’s great.
In the meantime, re-watch Stacy’s Mom by Fountains of Wayne. That is Adam Schlesinger’s doing. He died April 1st, 2020 of Covid, right in the middle of rehearsals for this play. So, we will never get to hear for whom he recommends this play. Given that song, that video, and the pre-pubescent youth of the kid they chose as the protagonist - I am guessing everyone. He would recommend this show for everyone.