MYSTERIES OF THE BRIDAL NIGHT, Coyote’s Playground, at Cafe Voltaire. In Martin Epstein’s maddeningly quirky one-act, two newlyweds lost on a back road en route to their honeymoon have a weird encounter with a coffin whose unseen inhabitant tinkles a bell at odd intervals.
This unusual reminder of mortality triggers the couple’s insecurities, testing their willingness to commit to a common future. Arthur criticizes Cheryl’s nasal voice and shares his fantasy of slicing her up. Cheryl relates a scary childhood memory of frogs coming out of her mouth when she tried to recite the Pledge of Allegiance; Arthur calms her by pretending to be a frog. After they consummate their marriage in the car’s backseat, they’re visited by more second thoughts. Fearing they’re no better than other boring married folks and angry that Arthur has no “concept of permanence,” Cheryl drives off, leaving him literally holding the bell. When Arthur finally evokes an awkward image of permanence (involving Hannibal and his elephants), Cheryl returns and they drive off to live unhappily ever after.
Epstein’s wacky whimsicality and overworked metaphors are either enchanting or sloppily strange. I vote for the latter. Robert Barrie’s earnest staging treats the script tenderly enough, and Troy Martin and Catherine Jarboe make the couple as concrete as the moon-spun dialogue allows. But Epstein could easily have gotten his young marrieds to open up without bringing in a jingling coffin. Mysteries of the Bridal Night just isn’t cute enough to need so much contrivance.