Three Viewings at Illusion Theater

April 15, 2011
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The Illusion Theater has returned to Jeffrey Hatcher’s Three Viewings, a play that received its first performance in Illusion’s Fresh Ink series and has since gone on to hundreds of performances all over the world.

Set in a funeral home, three characters tell their stories and reveal their relationship to the deceased in each case. Performed as three distinct monologues on an intimate, ambient set with minimal activity, what engages us from start to finish is Hatcher’s gift with spinning a tale, balancing with care between perfectly believable and Forrest Gump-like absurdity – right where a good story ought to perch.

In Tell-Tale, James Cada plays the mortician, Emil, whose motivations are powered by his oh-so-secret love of a divorcee, who is also a local realtor. In lieu of actually professing his love to her, he does what he can to help her land the lucrative contracts when the deceaseds’ houses inevitably go up for sale. Cada plays his character with subversive sleaze, which befits the nature of Emil’s circumstances and provides a righteous conclusion to a too-frequent dilemma. Cada’s challenge was to make us care at all about him by the time we reach its creepy end.

The Thief of Tears is considerably more of a roller-coaster, with the jerky twists and turns at the beginning and one wild descent at the end. Carolyn Pool as Mac puts us right there in the seat next to her; Mac is apparently exhilarated by a ride that feels just too dangerous to us.

And with good reason. Mac, who supports herself by stealing jewelry off of corpses, has returned to the East Coast to attend her very old and very rich grandmother’s funeral, but not, it would seem, to grieve with the family and pay her respects. What she wants is a ring that her grandmother promised to give her as a child. The ring was a bribe of the moment to get Mac to go to the beauty shop; grandmother never meant to make good on the deal.

This critical detail says everything about Mac’s rocky relationship with her family and sets up the darker truth with which Mac now lives. Pool masterfully transitions from strange but believable, to the schizophrenic, with us in tow on this greasy slope.

The trio of stories ends with the most satisfying one: Thirteen Things About Ed Carpolotti. Barbara Kingsley plays Virginia, the widow of a “wheeler dealer” whose business acumen provided them with a comfortable living – as far as Virginia knows. The thirteen things she ultimately learns after his death provides her with more comfort than all the money in this shady social circle could ever provide. But it comes at a price; she has to survive one shocking revelation after another – opportunities for Kingsley to give us enormously entertaining impersonations of the relevant characters in the unraveling story.

As much as the show works as is, I couldn’t help but want more characters, more interaction and more “flesh” on its bones. It felt rather like incredibly well-done oral interpretation, which is not a bad thing, but it’s not as dramatic as dialogue. However, if your idea of good theater is “a good story, well told,” then you’re going to thoroughly enjoy this show.

Three Viewings is directed by Michael Robins and runs through May 14.

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