BWW Reviews: Next Act Portends the Future in THREE VIEWS OF THE SAME OBJECT
What happens when someone "lives long enough to see everything you liked and loved crumble before you?" Playwright Henry Murray confronts the question of aging within the context of marriage, a production conceived in an intriguing contemporary format.
Milwaukee's Next Act Theatre stages the prophetic tender story about a mature couple named Jesse and Poppy faced with the finality of their physical bodies and earthly devotion. After the Friday night performance by an absolutely stellar cast, the audience rose in a spontaneous standing ovation where occassioanlly tears could be seen trickling down someone's cheeks.
Murray's complex convention in his 2012 award winning play streams three scenarios of one couple simultaneously on the stage. Where the end of life challenges Poppy and Jesse, a retired university professor and languishing poet/writer respectively, while they contemplate the reality of a suicide pact they made in their youth. To be carried out at that point in time when their lives will deteriorate to a day to day struggle.
The magnificent duo of James Pickering and Laurie Birmingham embody a couple devoted to each other despite their hardships, while the actors in the performance work from their actual life experience. Equally amazing on stage, John Kishline and Susan Sweeney portray a less contentious marital legacy, a blissful, charming aging until death to us part.
Placed in between the two couples, a poignant Flora Coker walks that fine line tinged with slight confusion in her solo version of Jesse left alone after Poppy's death, asking herself "why am I still here?" To unite these constantly changing couples in the play's overlapping scenes, Jennie Wanasek in role of Mrs. Widkin, an undercover lesbian caregiver, captures this personality perfectly.
Shawn Douglass's tight direction keeps these separate lives moving on stage, played absolutely straight, where the actors deliver their lines with piercing precision. Words fall from their lips in either humor or despair, or merely painful truth, without wringing sentimentality from the audience. And there is a disturbing comic strain throughout the play, an unabashed view of failing flesh where a person can only laugh instead of becoming desperately depressed while dealing with the decaying human body and disease sure to surface sometime during a lifetime.
The portentous production speaks to the country's graying population. Anyone faced with caregiving/or being taken care of contemplates the horror of asking "What next?" The car keys taken away, someone to dress me, feed me, now dependent like the final child Shakespeare speaks to in his famous Stages of Man soliloquy? How many treatments for an incurable illness are possible or passable? By listening to these marvelous actors utter these fears out loud, the audience can astutely percieve the the burgeoning crisis of a graying lifestyle, although with a decided hope instead of depression, ultimately life giving, forgiving and redeeming.
Murray's s play lets the dialogue underscore the dilemmas ahead for Poppy and Jesse, or children of aging parents, friends or singles, often tragically feeling lonely and useless. Others can ask what decisions they might perchance if an illness strikes in their youth instead of their longevity, to them or someone they love. The eloquent performance haunted one's memory all week, the final scenes a devastating and merciful portrayal of the future too compelling to miss. Acceptance or rejection of these truths to come would be optional while Next Act's Three Views of the Same Object places these crtical goodbyes, leaving one's mortal life, in the audience's immediate vision.
Next Act Theatre presents Henry Murray's Three Views of the Same Object at 255 South Water Street through April 27. For information or tickets, call: 414.278.7780 or www.nextact.org.