Given a moving backdrop, The Funeralogues fails to move quickly enough.
Reviewed by Ellen Wernecke
“While most little girls were planning for their wedding,” Stacy Mayer declares at the beginning of The Funeralogues, “I was planning for my funeral.” When delivered at the altar of All Souls Church on the Upper East Side, Mayer’s cheeky line is both more realistic—the show, after all, begins with a piano accompaniment solemn enough that it feels inappropriate to clap—and less believable. She will nearly get the chance to stage her own funeral over the course of The Funeralogues, an hour-long show written by Robert Charles Gompers and directed by Molly Marinik, but before that, she’ll meander through several others’ experiences with death—a journey that isn’t quite as vivid or moving.
Mayer embodies several characters within the show, from an elementary school teacher grasping at the correct response when she learns that one of her pupils has died to the last survivor of a family with 13 children. Gompers draws from famous eulogies in history, medieval mourning custom (in which “grief was appropriated by rank”) and blockbuster movies and stacks them up, tier by tier to form the body of the show in between reenactments of, for example, a 6-year-old’s Barbie funeral. (She had a dream life, but now Skipper is already honing in on her man against their owner’s wishes.)
But it doesn’t add up because Mayer doesn’t do enough to differentiate her characters. A series of old people with different accents are still too much alike; when she goes on to deliver one-liners from a sampling of eulogies, those character capsules have more contrast to them than much of the previous half hour. Toward the bottom of the show, we are introduced to a character who has a truly unique story to tell—a “casualty specialist” dispatched to the families of American soldiers who have died in the service, forced to deal with the aftermath of a bombing in Bahrain—but it doesn’t hit the emotional heights it should. The location of The Funeralogues is the perfect setting for this reflective show, but it ultimately doesn’t deliver because it doesn’t give the audience enough to hold onto in its depictions of those facing death. Instead, far too often it’s like being at a wake for a stranger.
Through December 13 at All Souls Chapel,