Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, February 2005
While Jeffrey Hatcher’s Three Viewings is certainly excellent theatre, it is not exactly a play. Set in a Pittsburgh funeral home, it consists of three monologues by characters who really don’t know each other and who are each mourning the passing of different people. Having just read The Hours, Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel which brilliantly interweaves the stories of three women in different decades of the 20th century, I was keenly aware of how many more subtle little threads Hatcher could have woven into his fabric to bring the narratives closer together.
That having been said, each monologue is well written and, in this Barrington Stage Company production, movingly acted and subtly directed by BSC Artistic Director Julianne Boyd.
The show opens with a monologue entitled Tell-Tale by Emil (Robert Zuckerman) one of the owners and operators of the funeral home. Emil is obsessed with a local real estate agent who, along with her colleagues, makes it a point to appear at every funeral where the bereaved family may be looking to put a house on the market. Of the three characters, I found Emil the hardest to relate to or sympathize with, and this is not from lack of skill or effort on Zuckerman’s part. At the conclusion, I was not sure how I was meant to feel about Emil. Was he pathetic, sympathetic, insane? Perhaps I was put off by the fact that Zuckerman’s looks reminded me so strongly of several great character actors – Gale Gordon and Clive Swift sprang instantly to mind – that I was wanting him to be funnier than the character was intended.
The next and most heartbreaking piece The Thief of Tears features a thirty-something woman who goes by the name of Mac (Caralyn Kozlowski), although her parents named her Jane. She has fled the family to live in Los Angeles, and she earns her living by stealing jewelry off of corpses at viewings. She has returned home to attend the funeral of her wealthy grandmother, who has died at the age of 103. There is a ring of her grandmother’s that she feels is rightfully hers, but in the process of obtaining it, she reveals her own gaping psychic wounds.
Impossibly thin and “glam” in that “El Lay” manner, Kozlowski’s portrayal of Mac/Jane’s disintegration is moving and believable.
The final monologue is the most entertaining of the lot is Thirteen Things About Ed Carpolotti, delivered with great style by Nancy Rothman playing Virginia, the clueless widow of the title character. While sitting sedately on a couch looking like the most prim and proper of Pittsburgh matrons, Rothman segues seamlessly into several other characters, many of them male, most notably the “Godfather” Dino. While I found the conclusion of this piece a little too clever, it is certainly a gripping tale delivered by a master story-teller.
Since this show will travel for one weekend to the Berkshire Museum, set and costume designer Guy Lee Bailey has kept the set deliberately simple, but the heavy maroon brocade curtains across the back exude the ominous aura of any funeral parlor. Each character brings in a fresh set of flowers for the two upstage pedestals – an action which serves to indicate that a new piece is beginning, and also gives slightly new look to the set for each monologue.
Bailey’s costumes are right on the money – establishing each character quickly while allowing the actors freedom of movement.
Nathan Towne-Smith has designed an intricate and effective light plot for BSC’s small Studio Space. I was especially appreciative of his efforts during the central Thief of Tears monologue.
Do not let the funeral parlor setting deter you from going to see this simple and moving winter offering by Barrington Stage. The show is not overly morbid and centers more on the continuity of life than the finality of death. I would not take young children to the show, simply because they will not find it entertaining. Teens, however, will find it as mesmerizing as adults.
Three Viewings runs February 17-20 and 24-27 at Barrington Stage Company's (413-528-8888) Studio Space just off Rt. 7 in Sheffield; and March 3-6 at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield. The show runs an hour and forty-five minutes with no intermission and is suitable for teens and adults.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2005