Kentucky Arts and Culture
Funeral Home as Theater
When Lexington theater group On The Verge Productions opens its latest play this weekend, it won't be performed on a traditional stage. The venue for "Three Viewings" plays a significant role for the cast, the audience, and the show's sponsor. Jeffrey Hatcher's "Three Viewings" is not your typical play. It has three acts - each a monologue from characters carrying on after death of someone important in their life.
"Three very different people dealing with very different issues telling very different stories," says show director Ave Lawyer.
Lawyer is one of the founding members of On The Verge productions.
"Three Viewings" includes a funeral director who can't work up the nerve to talk to his secret love, a woman who steals jewelry off corpses, and a sheltered wife coping with the loss of her husband. The stories are all set in a funeral parlor, which gave Lawyer the perfect opportunity to do some site-specific theater.
"We sort of look at Lexington as our stage and think alright here's a very interesting theater piece, now wouldn't it be more interesting if it was actually performed in a funeral home?"
"It was too good an opportunity to pass up."
Enter Milward Funeral Directors. The family-run business has been in Lexington since 1825. They are primarily known for their locations on Broadway and Southland Drive, but Milward General Manager Grant Bolt hopes customers will customers will consider their newest facility that opened six months ago on Trent Blvd near Man O'War.
"It's wide open. Wide open spaces, vaulted ceilings. You know the great room that we're in now, you're talking 40-foot ceilings, sky lights, a lot of natural light. You go into the reception area or the chapel area, you're talking 16, 18-foot ceilings that are trayed, a lot of trim work to it," says Bolt.
Milward wants to use the Man O' War facility to expand its services beyond funerals to things like wedding rehearsals, receptions, and group meetings.
Sponsoring the play gives Milward more visibility, and it provides an atmosphere Lawyer was looking for.
"The viewings will be in three different parlors and the audience will move through the space and follow the actors. So it's going to be an unusual experience."
Robbie Morgan plays Mac, the woman who steals jewelry, in act two.
"When you're in this size of a space with the real furniture and the ambiance of a funeral home, it really does change how you feel about how you're portraying the character, where you get to move, how you get to interact with a space, and how you get to interact with an audience that you know is sitting there remembering the last funeral they went to, trying to forget the last funeral they went to."
"I slam down the coffin lid. Let's get this show on the road! I propel Ed Carpolotti into the service room, the coffin cart banging into the door frame, I take the turn on two wheels, my heart is racing "
As actor Adam Luckey moves around the front reception room, audience members are at times only a couple of feet away from him.
The clip you heard was from the cast's final dress rehearsal this week. Director Ave Laywer had to cancel Wednesday's run through because a real visitation needed the space.
"Three Viewings" opens Friday night, yes at a funeral home, but one that is trying to be more than just a funeral home. That irony isn't lost on Lawyer.
"We didn't want this to be sort of gloomy and dark and morbid and lugubrious. The play is none of those things at all. It's just celebrating people and who they are and how they rich we are and how individual we are and what great stories we have."
The show runs Friday through Sunday at the Milward Man O' War Funeral Home.