THEATER | At Illusion Theater, Jeffrey Hatcher’s “Three Viewings” is reasonably entertaining

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Despite gushing, self-congratulatory program notes by author and director, Jeffrey Hatcher’s Three Viewings, directed by Michael Robins at Illusion Theater, is reasonably entertaining—though it does not overly impress. An exceptional cast carries a work that goes from superb to serviceable to inept capably through its paces.

A trilogy of connected one-act plays depicts the reverie of a love-struck middle-aged man, a cynical thief, and a hapless widow who have in common that they separately reminisce at the same funeral home. The eponymous Tell-Tale Emil never quite gathered up the gumption to profess his burning adoration to Tessie who, in the great beyond, is well past wooing. In The Thief of Tears, unrepentant grave-robber Mac (actually, she scans obituaries, cons her way into the service, and swipes jewelry from the coffins before the bereaved are interred) arrives at a conscience-pricking moment of truth. In Thirteen Things About Ed Carpolotti, Virginia, painfully naïve sweetheart of an old lady, gets a cold-bucket-of-water awakening about business doings by the husband whose death leaves her in a financial mess.

three viewings, presented through may 14 at illusion theater. for tickets and information, see illusiontheater.org.

Each premise engages. Tell-Tale handsomely delivers a payoff that has you nearly howling, laughing at Emil even as you pity the spineless simp. James Cada is wonderful in the role, mining the rich material with subtle authority.

The Thief of Tears offers smoothly wise-cracking Mac, who probably could make just as lucrative a living as a con artist instead of plying her ghoulish trade. You can’t help liking her: you just wouldn’t let her within five miles of your loved one’s funeral. The writing flows but, at the end, hits an implausible snag for which even comedy’s de rigueur suspension-of-belief tenet can’t account. Carolyn Pool is a marvelously straight-faced cutup as the intermittently foul-mouthed hard-case who makes few excuses for her line of “work.”

With Thirteen Things About Ed Carpolotti, Jeffrey Hatcher bottoms out. As we wonder what Virginia will do about her plight, immediacy stalls, obstructed by the playwright’s obvious fishing for laughs, including a clumsy caricature (which Robins should’ve reigned in) as Virginia describes a predatory mob figure. The closing moment, meant to tug at heartstrings, suffers a slick, cloying anti-climax. Barbara Kingsley is brilliant. She enlivens Virginia with the endearing warmth, priceless vulnerability, and understated strength Hatcher supplied. She cannot, however, salvage his inert story line.

Robins (Illusion Theater co-artistic director, with Bonnie Morris) skillfully sustains Three Viewings at a brisk clip, showcasing gifted actors to fine effect. The set design by Dean Holtzman is ingenious.

All said, the production provides an enjoyable evening. You won’t be sorry you went to see Three Viewings. Just don’t expect to be bowled over.

Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.

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