Love and death is a familiar combination for drama. But what about jewelry and death? Or scandal and death and romance? It’s all here, plus laughter and charm, in the New Repertory Theatre’s production of "Three Viewings,", which continues at the Black Box Theater at the Arsenal for the Arts in Watertown through December 18.
"Three Viewings" takes its title from the device of offering three monologues set in and around a funeral home. The deeper meaning is that we find ourselves peering into the deepest inner recesses of three very different individuals: A mortician, a jewel thief who makes a living by stealing from corpses at their own funerals, and a newly widowed woman whose husband of many decades turns out, in death, not to have been the man she thought him to be in life. In the peculiarities of their stories and the extremes of their emotions -- their longing, regret, terror, and grief -- the play offers universalities, the hallmark of art.
The first "viewing" is that of Emil (Joe Colodner), the funeral home director, as he airs his burning passion for a woman for whom he pines from a distance. When that distance seems to be closing, Emil is thrilled; but when life, and death, takes a series of different turns that leave him stranded in his own intense, unrequited love, it’s a kind of death within life. And the thing is, who hasn’t fallen desperately in love with someone who isn’t available or interested in turn? Jeffrey Hatcher’s script offers a thin insulation of comedy (it seems that all this time, Emil has gotten her name wrong), but the piece still imparts a potent sting.
In the second monologue, Mac (Christine Power) gradually picks apart a dense, tangled skein of family discord, power plays, tragedies, and revenge. As her story’s layers gradually unfurl and fall into place, a brilliant, vibrant picture emerges -- one that leaves the audience breathless as the final revelations emerge.
But the evening’s crowning moment arrives with the perfectly blended mixture of comedy and tragedy narrated by Virginia (Adrianne Krstansky), whose husband’s death unleashes a torrent of shocking disclosures, menacing phone calls, and the looming specter of poverty.
"What is with these men?" Virginia wonders, as she compares her husband’s secretive and slightly unsavory business practices with those of other men in her social circle who have recently died.
The character is somewhat Edith Bunkerish, but equipped with a formidable capacity for wryness. Krstansky’s performance is absolute brilliance -- all three performances are, but the material here is particularly strong, and Krstansky masters its nuances.
Director Jim Petosa does a similarly masterful job with the production as a whole, relying on a principle of simplicity: Cristina Todesco’s set consists of a sofa, a Plexiglas floor lit from beneath, and a little bit of projection on the rear wall, while Chris Berusberg’s lighting and David Reiffel’s sound design are similarly basic, achieving maximal effectiveness while setting the mood and opening up the space to the storyteller’s most potent tool: The imaginations of those in the audience.
"Three Viewings" continues through December 18 at the Black Box Theater at the Arsenal for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street in Watertown.
Tickets cost $35 general admission, and can be purchased online at www.newrep.org or via phone at 617-923-8487. Seniors get a $5 discount; students can purchase Student Rush tickets for $10.
Performance schedule: Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. (except for Dec. 3); Sundays at 2:00 p.m. There will also be a 2:00 matinee on Thursday, Dec. 1 and a 7:30 p.m. performance on Wednesday, Dec. 7. Talkbacks are scheduled to follow the Sunday afternoon performances.