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BWW Review: THE VIEWING ROOM at Howick Little Theatre

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Now on stage until July 31

BWW Review: THE VIEWING ROOM  at Howick Little Theatre Howick Little Theatre.

"The Viewing Room" by Mark Smith

Reviewed by Glenda Pearce

"Why did we wait a lifetime to speak?"

Imagine it's your father's wake. You are sitting in the hushed viewing room, classical funereal music playing softly, and you're awaiting the arrival of your family. It is a time for eulogies and remembrances. Then, your dead father (not being a good corpse) rises from his coffin - and speaks: "It's my wake - where else would I be?" This is the opening of the black comedy, a New Zealand premiere, directed by Ian Milnes, currently on offer at Howick Little Theatre. (Mark Smith has also written a screenplay version which will begin filming later this year.) It's a play that explores the ubiquitous hope to have done the best for our family in our lifetime, but if we could ask them at our funeral, would they agree?

Although sombre visually, starkly minimalist in set, and largely static in performance, the play is true to the playwright's intentions and style: "Grab ahold of the audience for the entire ride. Second, spark spirited conversations for long after the curtain has dropped." This is a thought-provoking script built on the tradition of drawing room plays. Structurally it's a series of family emotionally-motivated confrontations, rather static in nature, full of emotional angst and redemption, with revelations and surprises, and punctuated by superb comic one-liners.

The play centres on the pivotal patriarch, Chester Dumbrosky, (David Charteris) who has decided to "return" on the day of his wake to confront his family, to come to terms with his dysfunctional family and their dysfunctional relationships. David Charteris is entirely convincing in this demanding role, a stubborn, flawed father, a product of his Polish working background and entrenched beliefs. Unlike some of the other family members, who often directed the dialogue to their "dead" father, rather than to the audience, we could appreciate Chester's articulate and passionate dialogue delivered with angry, powerful intensity and rich resonant tones. Chester also delights in the playful trickster role - wanting to "rise up and applaud" and critiques his eulogy as it's being read.

Indeed, nice touches of humour punctuate the script, but without a doubt, the audience loved Florence - the long-suffering, somewhat simple, wife- who has seized the opportunity to regain her life. She's sold the house and bought an apartment, and a Mercedes and is living it up at Bingo. Engagingly played, with delicate well-timed irony, by Bronwen Arlington, some of the play's best lines are delivered by her : " Just watch - now he's going to make this day all about him!" or when she shows wifely concern, "You look tired. Are you getting enough rest?"

With their combined belief that "we lived in a dark, cool place", their children: sporty Steven Dumbrosky (Ken Morrison), rebellious, untidy Matthew Dumbrosky (Euan Crichton) caring Patti Dumbrosky (Bess Brookes), spirit-channelling Debby Dumbrosky (Dominque Pritchard) and artistic, first-born Chet Dumbrosky Jnr (David Jacobs) one by one confront their father. "A son wants to be loved - tell him all the time." These characters are skilfully contrasted, and astutely delivered. There is love, sibling rivalry and underlying tensions.

Exits and entrances, and moments of stillness, are expertly managed. There are touching moments in the final scenes, where love and understanding resurface. The dark nature of the play has led to sombre lighting (Nick Martin, David Guthrie, Andrew Gordon) throughout, until the final moments. The suitably confused undertaker Jay Hollerback (Linda Kerfoot) not in the know delivers many delightfully played ironic moments.

Congratulations to Ian Milnes with this play, delayed from 2020. It's a play designed to make you think and reflect - and there's well-timed laughter to sustain you. As always, the success of any play ultimately lies in the contributions of the production team, actors and stage crew alike to deliver the director's vision.

The play runs until July 31. Tickets on iticket.co.nz or (09) 361 1000.


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