Review by Sharlene Hartman
I absolutely LOVED Shadowland’s latest production titled “Three Viewings.”
It’s the telling of three independent stories from three very different people, connected only by their location; the parlor of a fashionable funeral home in a small upscale town near Pittsburgh.
I was immediately struck by how well it was written. Within just a few minutes I could tell this writer was a wordsmith and had mastered a turn of phrase.
Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, has created 3 complex characters; given them wonderful dialog, rich storylines and all come with a twist. They’re like gems from O’Henry, the master of such tales. And any one of them could have been produced for the old television show, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” As I think about the three different stories I can hear that iconic theme music, aptly called, “Funeral March of a Marionette,”and then that unmistakable voice saying, “Good Evening.” At that moment you know you’re in for a treat.
The evening opens with “Tell Tale,” a story told to us by Emil, the director of the funeral home. Tom Teti, plays Emil with a mix of Master of Ceremonies charm and wit, oodles of sincerity and “Energizer Bunny” zeal. We’re taken on his ride of pursuit and unrequited love, as he sets himself deadlines for finally confessing his love to Tessie, a local real estate agent, who he’s had a crush on for years. No longer will he just stare longingly at her from across a crowded room, no longer does he just want to mouth “I love you, I love you, I love you” to her, when her back is turned … he must tell her how he feels. He makes a promise to himself that he will finally confess his love “by Thanksgiving,” which turns into “by New Years Eve,” etc, etc, etc. It’s a game of “deadline procrastination” that I think we’ve all played ourselves and one we can relate to.
Emil’s story is filled with tons of clever, smart, funny, quick-quipped dialog as we’re informed about his world. We find out how much business can actually take place at funerals and wakes … all that’s needed is a little schmoozing. And Emil always makes sure of Tessie’s presence, it’s a chance to put the dearly departed’s house in her, eager to list, Realtor hands. But our view is not that simple, as we discover details about Tessie’s private life; and our shy, charming Emil takes a ride down a “slippery slope.”
“The Thief of Tears,” the second playlet, is perhaps the most complex and haunting of the three. There are moments that will give you chills. Mac, whose life is rather complicated, is a self-confessed funeral thief and Julie Sihilling plays her with honesty and humor. Mac is a slick, unapologetic casket robber; she has adapted the theatrical skill of faux crying on cue, the ability to double kiss the cheeks of a corpse then walk away with two ruby earrings in her mouth and acquired a gold tooth once among other things. She attends society’s best “open casket” viewings and fantasizes about the day she will tell her tales of funeral theft to Charlie Rose.
But once again, the story gets complicated, incredibly so; when Mac’s own grandmother dies, leaving a new will with unexpected bequeaths. And as Mac creates a plan to steal a special something from her grandmother’s casket we hear another story unfold. You must listen very carefully to Mac; her dialog is rich with clues and details from the start, a truly haunting story. However, a one point there is a reference to the date of 1963 and it pulled me out of the story. Mac refers to it as the year she got her first haircut; she was three years old and went with her grandmother. But that would make her about 54 years old, in present time, and she looks at least 20 years younger than that. I started to think I missed something. The play was written in the early 1990’s; poetic license was taken in a few other places, so why not here and change the date? Perhaps there are unknown factors that prohibit, but it did momentarily pull my focus from this beautiful piece.
“Thirteen Things About Ed Carpolotti” is the final story, and Stephanie Zimbalist does a fabulous job playing a widow of a certain age, an age much older than herself. Her voice, her mannerisms, her essence; everything she did made me think she was a very well-preserved woman in her mid 70s or older. There wasn’t a trace of Laura Holt, the modern career woman she played in “Remington Steele.” As Virgina Carpolotti, she is perfection as she weaves her humorous post-mortem tale, with its many twists, turns and red herrings along the way. She is a bereaved spouse, who discovers a ton of unexpected debt has been dumped in her lap, and that financial deceit is doomed to be the legacy of her late husband, described by all those concerned as “a real wheeler dealer”.
This piece was my favorite, a very juicy mystery filled with poignancy, lots of heart and a ton of dry wit. One can see the influence of Steubenville, Ohio, the playwright’s hometown. His Wikipedia bio describes it as “a gritty Ohio River town, better known for its mob connections, houses of ill repute and industrial detritus … that continually inspires.” The mob influence is definitely felt, with characters like Dino, who Virginia describes as “the owner of Smith Trucking, but they own no trucks,” and Vinnie, who wants to pay her a visit. And those friends of hers, surprisingly involved in unseemly activities, who are dying in unexpected accidents. But Virginia never goes down the “poor me” path, which would have been so easy to do. It’s played with a hell of a lot of fun and made me forget I had to go to the loo.
Which brings me to my only problem with this production, the lack of an intermission or an announcement at the box office or somewhere that there won’t be one. In the author’s notes of the published play, he says, “There is no intermission.” However, I’m accustom to Shadowland’s productions having them and my bladder was unprepared; as were most of the women in the ladies room, as we “shared” our predicament after the show. We’d all thought there would be an intermission after the second story and were uncomfortably surprised. So please Shadowland, give a little warning so that the stage will get everyone’s undivided attention.
If you’d like to be a fly on the wall, have “Three Viewings” of fabulous theatre, some great laughs, marvel at the smartly written dialog that’s full of surprises, have your heart strings pulled a little and experience it all in a beautifully air conditioned, state-of-the-art space, you’ve got to get yourself to Shadowland Theatre and spend a little time with Emil, Mac and Virginia. They could use the company and would love to share their story. You’ll be happy you did.
“Three Viewings” runs through July 6, Thursday – Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 2:00 p.m. The Shadowland Theatre is at 157 Canal Street, Ellenville, NY 12428, call the box office at 845-647-5511 or visit shadowlandtheatre.org