Too Many Eulogies Slow Down The Eulogist
Chip Fortier’s The Eulogist, third and final offering in the Generic Theater’s New Plays for Dog Days series, begins well, with much dark and deeply funny wit at the expense of the funeral industry, among other victims.
But mid-way through the first act it begins to waver, and we’re not certain if the play is meant to be taken seriously or as a farce.
By the time it ends, it’s looking a bit like a tidy sit-com. The hero gets the break he’s given up hope for, things are promising with the girl, and the best friend continues to be the jerk he’s always been.
All in good fun. Or is it?
Death and funerals, of course, are an unavoidable part of life, forcing even the most cheerful to pause for a moment of reflection. But death jokes are a booming business, as well, as Mr. Graves the mortician well knows.
He’s the unscrupulous undertaker who’s burying Walter Page’s father, who has just died as the play begins. Walter is a screen writer who hasn’t yet sold a script. He lives with his best friend Artie and struggles with self-esteem.
But we soon learn that Walter is a secret connoisseur of famous eulogies and can quote from them at length, as he demonstrates for Artie through several examples—eulogies for Winston Churchill, FDR, John and Bobby Kennedy, and a few others. Too many.
In any case, it is Walter’s family duty to prepare and deliver a eulogy for his father, which he accomplishes with eloquence and emotional sincerity. This gains him attention. Women come on to him, and soon he’s asked to write eulogies for paying clients.
Room mate Artie, sniffing money (and women) to be made on eulogies, jumps in as Walter’s partner, and the play takes off. Or it should.
Instead, problems begin to accumulate. There are many scenes, some quite short, alternating for the most part between a Catholic funeral sanctuary and Walter and Artie’s living room. Because the changes are complicated, they also take time, slowing the pace of the action.
But the action has already slowed in uncertainty about where the play is going. Is it still a farce? Or is it about Walter’s misery over his father’s death and where it has taken him?
A supporting ensemble of six portrays a variety of mourners, each delivering a portion of a eulogy as Walter and Artie turn them out like packages of cream cheese on an assembly line. But do we have to taste so many to get the idea?
The concept of an unsuccessful screen writer making a hit as a eulogist is very evocative. It could go in any number of interesting directions, from farce to sentimental romance to drama for mature audiences. But as it stands now, albeit with plenty of healthy laughs along the way, The Eulogist is a play with promise in search of clarity. And brevity.
The cast of ten, led by Jeff Anderson as Walter and Marcus Richardson as Artie—and studiously costumed for every change of scene by Celia Burnett—displays a singular commitment to the production. No one who has never done a play can conceive of how many hours of preparation it takes, on and off the set, before the audience is invited in. This cast, with crew, seems to have put in those hours (long scene changes and botched lighting cues notwithstanding).
The Eulogist continues at the Generic this weekend, Sat., July 22, at 8, Sun., July 23, at 2:30, and next weekend, Thurs.-Sat., July 28-30, at 8, closing Sun., July 31, at 2:30. For more information, click here.
The Norfolk Summer Play Fest, in which the Generic’s Dog Days series is participating, moves next to The Venue on 35th on Aug. 5, when Core Theatre Ensemble will open its latest new work, You vs.