You die, you're dead and buried. But if you survive a loved one's death, or anticipate soon having to, you shamble about wounded. Trinity Repertory Company is staging George Brant's The Mourners' Bench (through May 24) in a powerful presentation that explores consequences of the death of loved ones.
MUTUAL NEEDS Brazil and Hantman.
For all its thoughtful pacing and fraught silences, the world premiere's uninterrupted 90 minutes, directed by Michael Perlman, are intensified by this being three short, related plays, conversations of three pairs of people in the same living room at distinctly separate times.
First and most emotionally, an adult brother and sister establish what happened there when they were children and their parents died horrifically. Then we go back in time with two women, their aunts, who argue right after the funeral about who will take in the children. Lastly, we listen in on a conversation between an elderly couple, which at first seems entirely tangential but eventually proves to be overarching and quite moving.
A heartbeat binds the three sections, a piano piece by Brazilian composer Alberto Nepomuceno — which itself has a rhythmic pulse — as occasionally a character plays the music that meant so much to the dead woman, celebrating as well as mourning her on the piano bench where she died.
The most involved, and involving, portion is the first. Older sister Melissa (Angela Brazil) is understandably irate and impatient with brother Bobby (Mauro Hantman). He is sipping a glass of whiskey while promising to get clean and sober, a carrot he has dangled before her too often, as she puts it. Bobby has just bought, for her, this house that they grew up in, hoping to guilt trip her into taking care of him as she used to, despite her having a husband and children of her own.
People badly damaged in their childhood are frequently locked into the age they were at the time of the trauma. Bobby is a classic example, a self-absorbed child, smugly so. Responsible Melissa had given up on him 4-1/2 years before. Their mother taught her how to play the piano and he wishes that he had such a heritage, and not the legacy of their alcoholic father. This is a fascinating dance of mutual needs that Hantman and Brazil do.
The middle part has us listening in on a tense conversation between the two older sisters of the dead woman, Wilma (Janice Duclos) and Caroline (Phyllis Kay). Wilma lives nearby and her sister is about to fly back to her busy professional life. We learn that the young brother and sister held hands throughout the service and funeral earlier that day. Both sisters want to take in the children, and that's the subject of much of their disagreement. But their dispute goes deeper than whether Caroline would be too much of a disciplinarian and Wilma too lax, as we discover much about the sibling rivals.
The last section takes place soon after an elderly couple, Sarah (Anne Scurria) and Joe (Timothy Crowe), have moved into the house. Initially, the leisurely pace and casual conversation seem anticlimactic, only incidentally related, and a letdown after the intense dramas of the proceeding scenes. But Sarah, scuffing about in her bathrobe, is dying, and there is a slowly-building payoff in store.