CONVERSATIONS AFTER A BURIAL

by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Players by the Sea opened the United States Premier of French playwright Yasmina Reza’s “Conversations After A Burial” in its intimate studio theatre where it will run through February 16th. For reservations call 249-0289 or visit www.playersbythesea.org.

Yasmina Reza, the acclaimed author of “Art” and “God of Carnage,” debuted this play in 1987 when she was 28, and was awarded a Moliere Award, the French equivalent of a Tony Award. It has been done in France and England but this production is the first on North American soil.

This tragicomic play is set in the Loire Region of France where a sister and two brothers have just finished burying their father Simon Weinberg, on the grounds of his country estate. Joining them are Simon’s brother, his new wife, and a former mistress of the younger brother Alex. As the title indicates, what follows for the next eighty minutes in this one-act play are conversations among all present, that give voice to the personal feelings of each character about the deceased as well as about each other.

It becomes apparent fairly quickly that the homage to the late Mr. Weinberg is based more on a sense of family duty rather than an extreme love for the old guy. As a father, he is portrayed as rather critical and unloving.

One disconcerting element is the presence of the very attractive, thirtyish Elisa (Olivia Gowan). Why is the former lover of Alex (Paul Carelli) even here? We soon learn, as she declares that she has always been in love with the older brother Nathan (Kevin Bodge), with whom she admits having a sexual encounter in the past. Apparently the passions are still there, as Nathan and Elisa renew their carnal cravings with a tryst on top of the grave of the departed.

Mr. Bodge, as Nathan, appears to be the most down to earth, at least for a while until he succumbs to the sex appeal of Elisa.

The spinster sister, Edith (Karen Overstreet), shows the most emotion, even shedding copious tears, but it is obvious she has many issues in her own life. Her happiest moment comes when she relates to the two other ladies the details of her only sexual encounter in her life, when she seduced her ex-boss.

We had two favorite characters, and we are sure they will be yours when you see this play. Why? They have no particular agenda. Pierre (Dave Gowan), the uncle of the siblings, is there to honor his friendship with the late Simon and is a happy-go-lucky amateur philosopher. His wife Julienne (Holly Gutshall) is just along for the ride, and has no connections to the family other than her recent marriage to Pierre (her third husband). Julienne was given the most humorous lines in the show by playwright Reza and the incomparable Ms. Gutshall, veteran of over seventy productions and winner of nine best actress awards, delivers them to perfection and had everyone laughing.

Paul Carelli as Alex probably has the meatiest role. You may not like Alex but you will admire Carelli’s acting as he presents a character that stimulates critics to use a string of adjectives to describe him we don’t frequently get to use; adjectives like harsh, annoying, grating and abrasive.

If you like to cook, the play may inspire you to seek out a cookbook with French recipes so you can cook up a version of pot-au-feu, a dish the cast spends time peeling vegetables for in the middle of the play. This French family favorite features beef chunks, carrots, turnips, and onions simmered in broth. The opening night audiences at Players by the Sea are often treated to the culinary delights of Vice President Michelle Wiggins, which may explain one of the reasons all the opening nights are always full houses. Michelle cooked up a delightful and delicious pot-au-feu, which certainly put us in the mood to see a French play.

The set, an ambiguous landscape, was designed by Anne Roberts who worked with the ingenuity of Production Manager Brian Grant to create this visual delight that consists of a background in blue and terra cotta hues, with several tall cypress trees in wheeled clay pots and a large cream colored stone wall, that reverses – very rapidly – to create a large room complete with chairs and tables. Ms. Roberts, who has moved back to the beaches after four years in Baltimore, also selected musical pieces by nine French composers that were used in the short black-out scene changes. She notes in the program that her color choices were inspired by painters Yves Tanguy and Salvador Dali. The costuming, by the cast members, is contemporary attire, largely in dark colors.
The play was co-directed by Joe Schwarz and Holly Gutshall with the French born Anne Roberts as assistant director. Ms. Gutshall, you will note, is also in the play. She took over the role when the original person cast had to drop out. The play has 9 short scenes in the 80 minutes on stage and is performed without intermission. This is our interpretation of “Conversations After A Burial”, yours may be different since the play requires the audience to listen and pay attention to what is being said. The entire cast is excellent in their characterizations and If you appreciate superb acting you will certainly enjoy this show.

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