“Three Viewings,” at Cotuit Center for the Arts’ Black Box Theater through January 25 is a set of three curiously related monologues that take place in a funeral home near Pittsburgh, in the late fall of the year. Its dark humor, unexpected twists, and inspired irony make it the perfect play to see now, in the dead of winter.
It is a well-written play, a nicely crafted blend of humor and poignancy, but what really makes this production shine is the actors. The show has been wonderfully cast by director Garry Mitchell, and it is beautifully acted by A. M. Dolan, Sarah Walsh, and Jane Taylor, each of whom is thoroughly believable, even, or especially, in the intimate confines of the Black Box Theater. Here, where the actors are only a few feet from the audience members, even their most implausible tales ring true.
In the first monologue, “Tell Tale,” A. M. Dolan is Emil, a pallid funeral director with a secret and unrequited crush on Tessie. She is a beautiful, black-haired real estate agent who attends every funeral in her red jacket, the better to slip her business card into the hands of the bereaved. Emil admires her business acuity and repeats “I love you, I love you, I love you” to her, only when he is sure she out of range of his voice.
Yet, he imagines, one day, “She’ll catch me, and I’ll be happy to be caught.”
Dolan captures Emil’s yearnings, inhibitions, and desperation as he wrestles with how to tell Tessie how he feels. “I would rather have this particular pain than its absence,” he confides to us.
Emil reflects on other funerals as well, including that of Nettie James, who has died at the age of 103, having been on the verge of death for 28 years. He shares with us a line from an obituary written about her—but not published: “Nettie James finally dies; civic and social leader succumbs after a lifetime of condescension and bullying.”
The funeral of Nettie James is the setting for the next play, “Thief of Tears,” in which Mac, a self-described “bipolar, bisexual drug addict,” played by Sarah Walsh returns home for her grandmother’s funeral. Mac makes a living by stealing jewelry from the bodies of the deceased at funeral homes. Though a failed actress, Mac can cry on cue and has mastered the art of removing the earrings from the dearly beloved with her teeth, as she solemnly kisses each cheek.
Walsh expertly brings out both Mac’s tough exterior and her vulnerabilities. Her brashness masks a life of loss and disconnection from her upper class family, Nettie James in particular. Mac has left her husband, she says, because he wouldn’t fix the kitchen door, but we learn the story is more complicated than that.
Jane Taylor plays an upper class widow in the final play, “Thirteen Things about Ed Carpolotti.” Upon her husband’s death, she learns that her husband’s construction business is not the success she thought it was. In fact she owes substantial amounts of money to the bank, the Mafia, and to her husband’s brother.
Taylor conveys Virginia’s growing anxieties well, as she discovers that, not only will she not be able to buy that new car that all widows buy, but she will be in debt for millions, to people who all want their money now. Add to that a grown daughter who continues to rely on her for assistance. If only Ed were there to help—and he just might be.
“Three Viewings” runs Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, through January 25. It’s 90 minutes long, without intermission. Tickets are $15, $12 for members.
When you go, allow some time to see “Opposites Attract,” the annual child-friendly collaborative art exhibit at the center with the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod. It features the work of 72 Cape Cod artists. The exhibit is free and open to the public and runs through February 21. Gallery hours are 10 AM to 4 PM, in addition to times when there is an event in the performance center.