THREE FOR ALL Joel Colodner, Adrianne Krstansky, and Christine Power deliver the gleeful funereal goods in Jeffrey Hatcher’s Three Viewings.
Instead of sugarplums, New Repertory Theatre is serving up funeral meats. You have to admire a troupe that bypasses Scrooge and his hallucinogenic morsel of mustard to take us home for the holidays to . . . a Pittsburgh mortuary! But Jeffrey Hatcher's 1995 triptych Three Viewings (at the Arsenal Center for the Arts' Black Box through December 18) does indeed take place in and around such an establishment. Odd Yuletide setting though that is, the theater piece does end just before Christmas — when an offstage character dies of a heart attack! So why is it that Three Viewings, when not ladling melodrama, can be as delicious as the passel of fruitcakes that makes up its dramatis personae?
Hatcher's play is one more example that theater, at its core, is storytelling. Here we get three tales interrelated only by the funeral hook and a few minor characters, each crisply unfolded by a single actor under the direction of Jim Petosa. And despite a few clunks into potholes of bathos, the evening revs up as it goes along, its last tale of love and death and lucre easily its best. But in all three, Hatcher demonstrates a deadpan wit and a strong arm for the curveball.
First up is mousy mortician Emil, wearing his heart on his sleeve like a mourner's armband. The object of his unrequited love: divorced realtor Tessie, apparently as vivid as he is drab, whom he secretly courts by tipping her to imminent demises that might lead to real-estate sales. Emil's a human collision of the ghoulish and the pathetic, and his adoration's more OCD than PDA. But Joel Colodner imbues the man with a shy and desperate passion.
Made of brassier stuff is Mac, whose first line — "I've been stealing jewelry off corpses for years; Grandma will be a cinch" — sure gets your attention. Indeed, the LA transplant, her diamonds gleaming like her acerbic edge, does rob the dead for a living. But this time it's personal. Grandma was a wealthy harridan who lived to 103 — as Mac puts it, "This funeral's been in rehearsal so long it's had replacement casts." Would that Mac's backstory were as tough and as tart as she is. But Christine Power proves a long, tall drink of vitriol into which Hatcher drops a blob of sentimentality only at the end.
Adrianne Krstansky's Virginia fares better, her tale of woe — emotional and financial — topped by a denouement as ingenious as it is sweet. Virginia, the widow of recently deceased "wheeler-dealer" businessman Ed, sits on the couch draped in a shmata as she catalogues a nest egg shattered by the sizeable debts Ed — clearly a wheeler-dealer with two flat tires — left behind. Krstansky adeptly filters everyone from Virginia's more erudite daughter to a growling Mafioso through the narrator's own bemused, appalled, somehow preternatural calm.
More conventional holiday fixings are tossed into the Cuisinart at Merrimack Repertory Theatre by those capering clowns of compaction, the Reduced Shakespeare Company. The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged) (through December 18), in its East Coast premiere, takes the form of an interdenominational variety show — but none of the acts shows up. This leaves longtime RSC writer-directors Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, abetted by fresh-faced Matt Rippy, to create their own Yule's errand.