CONFLICTING EMOTIONS Josh Brassard and Elizabeth Chasse hash out a scene in Open Casket. (photo by Michael Tobin)
Kevin, the man in the closed grey casket, is the catalyst for a series of familial and sexual triangulations, in Open Casket, a dramedy about death, lust, and love by Portland actress and playwright Megan E. Tripaldi. Developed in association with the Crowbait Club, Portland’s monthly workshop for new theater works, Open Casket now receives its first full production at The Footlights in Falmouth, under the direction of Stephanie Ross.
Deceased Kevin was the brother of Charlotte (Elizabeth Chasse), who adored him, and of Lawrence (Josh Brassard), who seems more concerned with getting a decent cup of coffee than paying his respects, and whom Charlotte describes as “a dick” to his own wife, the long-suffering Steph (Victoria Machado). Meanwhile, sibling strife is perhaps even more histrionic between the straight-laced Mitchell (Josh Cohen) and his almost preternaturally bitchy sister Lindsay (Beth Somerville), who are watching the family funeral home while their parents are away. Between frank talks, slugs from flasks, and quickies on the embalming table, the assorted siblings and lovers must try to get through this funeral alive.
Tripaldi’s premise and Ross’s staging of these funeral home hijinks offer some revealing patterns for characterization, as when each character makes an initial entrance alone into the room with the casket, and we can observe their subtle differences—the quiet, broken heaviness of Charlotte’s approach; the fluttering breath that Steph catches midstride when she sees the casket; Lawrence’s smarmy, self-conscious condescension with Steph and his tight-lipped smile for Charlotte.
These characters are drawn interestingly by both playwright and actors, and make for dynamic constellations. Chasse plays Charlotte nice and low, with a subtle, casual inflection that gives her plenty of room to raise the emotional octave, while Machado’s tightly-wound Steph is affecting as she softens into confidences. Brassard does a bang-up job of not only making Lawrence a douchebag, but delineating his eventual breakdown from rage to vulnerability and finally a grief that cracks wide open. While the awkwardness of Cohen’s Mitchell with bereaved people is a little curious, considering he was raised in the biz, he is humorously annoyed by the meticulous bitchery of Somerville’s Lindsay, and his drunken renaissance at the hands of Charlotte is endearing.
Tripaldi’s script weaves between clever and earnest, with some great telling details; Lindsay, for example, has remembered the name of the bereaved family by writing it on her arm. The characters’ larger emotional states, on the other hand, are sometimes conveyed via exposition-laced monologues and sweeping emotional statements, like Charlotte’s “I’m not a complete person anymore,” or Lawrence’s elaborate confession—to the casket—of insecure resentment.
Some of the most revealing moments are actually wordless or abbreviated: a quietly weeping Steph, thinking she’s alone, interrupted by Lawrence giving his coffee an accusatory slurp behind her; Lawrence’s fragmented phone conversation with his mistress and his quiet “This might be it,” with a nod toward his fuming wife off-stage. I would love to see Tripaldi—who already has a strong sense for character, arc, and the power of the colloquial—work more in such leaps, gaps, and silences, and to trust both the actors and the audience to intuit the truths of the unsaid.
Tripaldi demonstrates a strong voice with her entertaining dramedy, and the Footlights is commendable for taking seriously the programming m.o. of cultivating new works by local playwrights like her. Encourage them! Falmouth and the Footlights are but a skip away.
Open Casket | by Megan E. Tripaldi; Directed by Stephanie Ross; Produced at the Footlights in Falmouth | Through August 24 | 207.747.5434