Jonathan Raymond Popp
The Kathie Rasmussen Women’s Theatre (KRASS) is a nonprofit theater company whose mission is to produce work that “enhances women’s artistic, social and personal well-being as well as to educate participants and audience about all aspects of theater.” It’s difficult to understand how the company’s latest production, Morticians in Love, by Christi Stewart-Brown, fulfills that mission. It’s also hard to imagine what inspired director Suzan Kurry to choose this play, which runs at the Bartell Theatre through March 4. After seeing the production opening weekend, it’s even harder to see how it could be characterized as a farce, or even a comedy.
The lifeless story revolves around two horny and socially inept morticians — Lydia (Mary Wallin) and St. John (Bryan Royston) — who must work together after his mortuary is destroyed in a mysterious fire. Lydia and her sexually ambiguous assistant Limer (Rowan Calyx) are initially hesitant to allow another living person into their home/business, but soon the two funeral directors realize they have lots in common: They have embalmed each other’s parents. They don’t really relate well to live people. They hate the jokes that are often made about morticians. They haven’t had any successful dates in their entire adult lives. And they’re both necrophiliacs who find it difficult and confusing to have a sexual partner with a pulse. So instead they indulge in group groping with a couple of beautiful corpses. Meanwhile Limer’s obvious love for Lydia goes unacknowledged and unrequited until he makes himself the center of his employer’s work.
Under three unrelenting florescent lights on the stark white set, (also designed by Suzan Kurry), there is nowhere for the actors to hide when the threadbare script fails them, and it does, repeatedly. Painfully slow pacing and long scene changes in blackouts don’t help revive the play, which runs two hours with an intermission, but might have been condensed into a three-minute Saturday Night Live sketch. (Not a funny one.)
As the creepy but caring beautician Limer, Calyx comes closest to creating a sympathetic character. While the script gives us some tantalizing and bizarre details about “its” past, none of them are integrated into the production, which feels like a missed opportunity.
Joshua K. Paffel and Issaka Brellenthin deserve credit for tackling the hardest roles in the play — the gorgeous corpses that the morticians can’t resist. They are dressed, undressed, posed, exposed and placed in compromising positions while maintaining the appearance of dead weight. At least there was no danger of either of them — or anyone in the audience — laughing during the show.