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Next Act Theatre takes marriage through the course of time

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

April 10, 2014

 
WAUKESHA - It is refreshing and rare to see a play that deals with end-of-life issues. It is also rare to witness six such seasoned Milwaukee actors united on one stage to take on this poignant topic with such cleverness and skill. (I must add that it was a thrill to see Laurie Birmingham among us once again.)

Next Act Theatre ends its season with Henry Murray’s ingenious “Three Views of the Same Object,” using five actors to depict one married couple and one to serve as the couple’s friend. It takes some time to catch on to what the playwright’s up to here, but the somewhat puzzling construction keeps one engaged and is very effective in developing all the “what ifs” of the drama’s theme.

Jessie and Poppy are nearing the end of their lives and are questioning whether or not to carry out a pact that they made much earlier in their marriage to voluntarily end their lives together, a plan, by the way, that is easier to talk about than carry out when “the end” becomes imminent.

The couple known as Jesse and Poppy I is played by Laurie Birmingham and James Pickering. We see them as contentious, but despite their ambivalent exchanges, also caring. Their fiery repartee, fueled by Jesse’s excessive drinking, provide most of the humor in the script. This version of Jesse and Poppy dominates the play. Birmingham and Pickering are perfect in their roles.

Jesse and Poppy 2 are played by Susan Sweeney and John Kishline. We experience them as one of those rare couples who have aged with grace, patience and an abiding affection for each other. The feisty Jesse 3 is memorably rendered by the inimitable Flora Coker. Poppy 3 is a mere pair of shoes. Jenny Wanasek is the do-gooder friend, Mrs. Widkin, who waltzes in frequently with a tuna casserole to help out her aging friends. We’ve all met the likes of the well-meaning Mrs. Widkin, who can be as helpful as they can be annoying.

It is often said that the end of our lives closely resembles how we have lived the rest of it. How much control does one really have over one’s own life and how much is determined by circumstances? Good question, and one of the many proposed here.

I won’t reveal the mysteries inherent in this story, but only strongly advise you to go see this provocative production that will force you to contemplate some issues that you might be avoiding.

The realistic set design by William Boles and the costuming by Emily Waecker contribute significantly to the general ambience. Directed by Shawn Douglass, “Three Views of the Same Object” offers us a very creative and in-depth look at life, death, love, bitterness and the complexity of relationships, as well as another affirmation of the abiding quality of live theater in the greater Milwaukee area.

“Three Views of the Same Object” runs through April 27 at the Next Act Theatre, 255 S. Water St., Milwaukee. For show times and tickets, call 414-278-0765 or visit www.nextact.org