By Richard Ades
There are people in the world who enjoy Happy Endings. I know this because I used to work with such a person, who otherwise seemed fairly normal.
If you also like the ABC sitcom but feel it could use more (a) cussing, (b) pot smoking and (c) death, you might enjoy MadLab’s world-premiere production of She’s Dead.
Like Happy Endings, Joe Giordano’s extended one-act is about a group of friends who spend a lot of time dealing with each other’s problems. Unlike the TV show, She’s Dead particularly focuses on one problem that has no solution: Erin (Mary-Aileen St. Cyr), girlfriend of Sam (Michael Galusick), is dying.
Complicating the situation, Erin insists that her friends skip the funeral home and prepare her body for burial on their own. She also wants them to skip the cemetery, which means they have to find a place to bury her remains, hopefully without running afoul of the law in the process.
Did I mention that there’s cussing going on? Yes, there are F-bombs aplenty, but they’re really more like F-cluster bombs. (Warning: Here comes one.) When Sam is feeling justifiably sorry for himself, for instance, he holds forth with something like: “My fucking life is so fucking fucked! Fuck!”
And did I mention there’s pot smoking going on? There is. In fact, one gets the feeling that the friends are more stoned, more often, than they’re letting on. That would help to explain some of their behavior.
In a key scene set after Erin’s death, Sam attempts to follow her pre-issued instructions by stuffing cotton balls in her vagina, only to be greeted with a stream of urine. The mishap sends the entire group into a laughing jag, a reaction that’s hard to understand considering Sam has just lost his life partner and the rest have lost a dear friend.
If they’re all exceptionally high, the reaction might be slightly understandable. Even so, the scene comes off more like an old Cheech and Chong routine than like real life.
That’s the problem with She’s Dead: tone. It occasionally provides some good laughs (one thing, for me, that sets it apart from Happy Endings), but they too often come at the expense of the playwright’s attempts to insert a little heart into the proceedings.
Director Nikki Smith tries mightily to incorporate both the laughs and the heart, even stopping occasionally for a few seconds of mood music when it’s time to switch gears, but the spastically uneven script thwarts her. She does coax good performances out of the cast, however.
St. Cyr is especially impressive, making Erin an unexpectedly bubbly presence in the scenes set before her death. She’s also a believable corpse in the scenes set after her death (which alternate with the former in a flashback/flash-forward fashion).
As Sam, Galusick does a good job of carrying much of the play’s emotional baggage.
Playing Sam and Erin’s friends are Maria Ritchey as Addie; Brendan Michna as her perpetually confused husband, Brian; and Jay Hobson as their gay friend, Max—I mean, Mack. A tearful Randi Morgan also shows up occasionally as Erin’s mother.
Inserting a dollop of satire, Aran Carr and Erik Sternberger play Rose and Jack, respectively, in a bizarre revision of the movie Titanic that Sam is writing in an attempt to deal with his grief. Unfortunately, Giordano undermines that satire near the end, then tries to un-undermine it, offering further proof that She’s Dead is due for some revision before it returns to the stage.
She’s Dead will be presented at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through March 23 at MadLab Theatre & Gallery, 227 N. Third St. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. Tickets are $12, $10 for students and seniors, $8 for members. 614-221-5418 or madlab.net.