Summer is the time for light beach reading and, sometimes, theater that can be consumed like little snacks. A second theatrical opportunity available this week, in addition to the Contemporary Theater's two-minute-play production that is also reviewed here, is Epic Theatre Company's Charlie's Funeral, written and directed by Kevin Broccoli (through July 31).
WITNESSES Three of the Charliepalooza participants.
Broccoli, a local resource for his occa-sional one-man shows, is nothing if not prolific. He announced that he would write short monologues for any and all actors interested in the production. When 131 of them volunteered, he took a deep breath and came through.
The idea was to assemble a mosaic biography of the eponymous Charlie Stamp, letting us piece together his life from the accounts and anecdotes of those who came to his funeral to say a word, good or bad — family members and priest, drinking buddy, and casual acquaintances.
As is the nature of writing projects that are increased in length rather than edited down (the number originally announced was 127), some of the brief vignettes in the two hours work well, others less so. Only one fell flat in the two dozen-plus I saw last weekend, that of a character who was so upset that he stopped and ran off before he was finished, an acting and timing challenge that the actor couldn't effectively manage.
Some key friends and relatives of Charlie's are appearing in every performance — a parent here, an ex-wife there — to give audiences a well-rounded understanding of the man.Charlie scuffed through his ordinary, typically flawed life for 74 years. Most of the eulogizers are speaking from beyond the grave, so they have credentialed perspectives.
Worth mentioning right away is a moment of kindness on Charlie's part, since they are few and far between. It's told by a florist (Trudi Miller) he frequented, and the kindness was his one day purchasing a bouquet of roses and this time not sending them to someone but rather giving them to the florist. Nice.
Insights pop up now and then, as when Charlie's mother (Kim Alessandro) explains the futility of her two sons resenting each other, observing that "pain ain't retroactive."
Charlie was easily influenced by personalities stronger than his own. His first wife (Allison Crews), for example, thought on one opportunity that "it would be fun" to break up a friendship. Despite that mean-spirited warning, he married her. Nevertheless, she couldn't knock all his humanity out of him, so even though she ran off with his brother (Ara Bohigian), Charlie was the one who later drove her to her cancer doctor every day.
Bohigian's performance is among the strongest here when we finally meet him, effectively blending anger with self-defensiveness. "We fell for each other, the way people do," he says about his brother's wife, adding that if we were zebras and lions on the Serengeti, no one would blame him for acting naturally. Broccoli is good at writing tough, unapologetic men, and TJ Curran is well up to portraying another of them, Charlie's father. He abandoned the family when the boy was in high school and admired the boy for standing up to him at the end, in an inventive way I won't spoil.