nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
November 14, 2008
Stacy Mayer loves a good funeral. She has been obsessed with death for most of her life. She's more concerned with having the perfect funeral than the perfect wedding. Her logic to that struck me as...well, logical. She says, "...at this rate I don't even know if I'll get married and I don't want to waste time setting away money or making plans for something that may never happen." Death is inevitable and in the case of The Funeralogues it's also quite funny.
When you walk into the little chapel, pianist Jim Lahti is playing Chopin to set the mood. The lights are low and there is a hymnal on your seat. Mayer enters and asks us to pick up the hymnal and turn to page 52 and sing along with her. But it's just a joke. She doesn't want to sing a church song any more than we do.
The show is actually a series of characters who all have their piece to say about death. Mayer plays all the characters and herself in between characters. When playing herself she offers some insight into her long obsession with death, some frank truths about who she is, and even a little history of funeral rituals from other cultures. Her characters range from a little girl (supposedly herself) holding a funeral for her decapitated Barbie doll to an old lady with survivor's guilt to a Naval Officer whose job it is to inform and console the parents of lost soldiers.
Some of the material is taken from real eulogies such as a very moving excerpt from the eulogy given by Martin Luther King, Jr. for the young girls killed in the Birmingham church fire. "They did not die in the dives and dens of Birmingham, nor did they die discussing and listening to filthy jokes. They died between the sacred walls of the church of God, and they were discussing the eternal meaning of love." Mayer performs this piece as an old man named Saul who has "seen the worst of men." Mayer also includes a prayer written by her grandfather that he used to hand out to friends and strangers and was subsequently read at his funeral by Mayer's mother.
There is a very nice balance of extremely heart-rending moments with very funny moments. The Barbie funeral is hilarious. Skipper tries to jump Ken's plastic bones before the funeral is even over. "Too soon?" she says. Mayer also performs her fantasy eulogy in which she has spent most of her life spoon-feeding the homeless and even knitting them socks and gloves. Playwright Robert Charles Gompers and Mayer have cobbled together a script that is funny and stirring. Gompers has structured the piece very well. He foreshadows a good turnaround ending that I really did not expect. He shoots one-liners from the hip and he works monologues that would make great auditioning material. Gompers gives Mayer a solid base of material on which to stand.
Mayer is a very funny and endearing performer. She has a lot of energy to give off and not a moment goes by that you can not feel that energy hitting you in the face. She performs at a breakneck pace practically from start to finish. There are moments, especially when she was playing herself, when I felt she could have been a little more relaxed and not so frantic. She, of course, brings the energy down for the more solemn segments and she does a great job creating the distinctions between characters using her voice and body. Her director, Molly Marinik, moves her around the unconventional space very well. I liked how Marinik has her interact with the characters as herself before transforming into them.—many times, she sits next to them and talks to them for a while.
I enjoyed The Funeralogues on different levels. It is funny and I enjoyed the dark humor. But it is also very moving. The story told by the Naval Officer left a lump in my throat. This show is an interesting concept, in a great location, and it is well executed. We don't have much time with this mortal coil, but I think you can afford to give a little of it to see this production.