Happy to Pay My Respects to “Fourteen Funerals”
Thank God for the restorative powers of comedy. After the grief stricken month of May personally and nationally there is some kind of alchemical magic working in Catskill where Eric Pfeffinger’s “Fourteen Funerals” is concluding its East Coast premiere at Bridge Street Theatre with two shows this weekend. Saturday, 6/11 at 7:30pm and Sunday, 6/12 at 2pm.
Sienna has been summoned from Chicago to Blissfield, Indiana by the Funeral Director Millie because she is the last surviving member of the Fitchwoods who have all unfortunately perished in their garage due to a horrible fireworks accident. Sienna must eulogize each unknown member of her family to properly bring closure to their tragically curtailed lives.
The playwright has set himself some challenges here from the get go that he mostly succeeds with, gaining a huge assist with the delightful, creative and engaging performances of the two young women in the cast, Montana Lampert Hoover as Millie and Haley Wong as Sienna and the resourceful, energetic direction of Sara Lampert Hoover. The challenges being how can two actors convince us of this absurd situation, make us care for its outcome and keep us interested for its 90 minute runtime while not repeating himself in the (count ’em) fourteen reflections AND saying something memorable and moving in the funeral oration as we would expect at such a solemn occasion. Pfeffinger ticks all the boxes.
Millie in Montana’s hands is charming, dreamy and officious. She manages her father’s mortuary and cares about the grieving process and proper way of doing things but can also be found goofily crafting theme songs for the funeral home’s imagined commercial: “When you are thrifty and you are dead/ We can get you bury-ed.” Her latent lesbianism has not created significant problems for her in Blissfield beyond being powerfully lonely. Lampert Hoover is compulsively watchable in the role.
Haley Wong as Sienna starts off with far more defenses and seems to be reacting facially to every new indignity in her path but soon takes on the onus of being the family orator and grows more confident, funnier and loveable as the play goes on. She crafts speeches out of the smallest of details: his large backpack, her competitive mooing, his knuckle cracking, her cheese addiction and spins them in a great variety of ways. She is a tonic and turns out to be a great match for Millie.
Sara Lampert Hoover has easily moved the action around John Sowle’s effective and attractive funeral office using every inch of space with office business and keeping the pace brisk and persuasive only slowing down when the topic has earned the pause. The play covers a great deal of ground from the young adults’ ambitions to student debt, suicide, sexual assault and provincialism and Ms. Lampert Hoover guides us and the cast well. Artistic and Managing Director Sowle also designed the lights and I have to mention the fireworks projections at the top of the show.
You may not remember what a person said or what a person did but you will remember how a person made you feel. “Fourteen Funerals” will make you feel life is precious in all its crazy detail.
“Fourteen Funerals” is a lovely, winning gem of a show that can easily make you smile through your tears.
Through 6/12 @ Bridge Street Theatre; Tickets: www.BridgeStreetThetare.org