As the front end of the baby-boomer bulge passes the six decade mark, a lot of us are finding that the proportion of three weddings to a funeral has become more like three funerals for every wedding. The mortuary is feeling like a second home.
Okay, I’m exaggerating—a little. But Jeffrey Hatcher’s intertwined monologues about death and life in a small-town funeral parlour strike a lot of familiar chords. It helps that they are so cleverly written and beautifully delivered in Jay Brazeau’s note-perfect Presentation House production.
Hatcher is familiar with the theme of mortality, having adapted Tuesdays with Morrie for the stage. Like Morrie, Three Viewings is theatrically minimalist: a bench, doubling as an open casket, and two flower stands against a drapery backdrop make up Pam Johnson’s set. Unlike Morrie, as the three characters tell their stories one at a time, there’s almost no sentimentality here.
First up is Emil the funeral director, nicely underplayed by Kevin McNulty, who describes his desperate crush on a local realtor who trolls funerals for listings. Emil never strikes a cynical note nor is he the bloodless mortician of cliché. McNulty plays him soft-spoken, buttoned-up, smaller than life but with great inner vitality, reinforced in the brief tangos he dances between episodes of his tale. He shares little jokes—his difficulty taking holidays because “there’s no slow season”—and introduces us to the community that we’ll get to know better in the next two monologues.
If McNulty’s Emil is understated, Jillian Fargey’s intense, manic Mac at first seems over the top. The black sheep of her family, who consider her “a bipolar, bisexual drug addict,” Mac lives by stealing jewellery off corpses at funerals. Deeply cynical and condescending, she’s also very funny imitating her father and illustrating her corpse-robbing technique. But her decision to steal a ring off her own dead grandmother unleashes an emotional torrent in a Gothic ending that explains Mac’s behaviour and reminds us again what a powerful actor Fargey can be.
The final character is the funniest. Suzanne Ristic’s widowed Virginia has little time to grieve her wheeler-dealer husband who has left her deeply in debt with the IRS, the bank, the mob, and her brother-in-law. As the demands and disasters build, so does the comedy, helped along by oblique advice from Virginia’s daughter (“I never know what the hell she’s talking about!”). There’s also some wisdom along the way to the contrived but satisfying ending.
In the words of the philosopher, nobody gets out of here alive. Three Viewings is a smart, entertaining, inexpensive way to get used to it.