Review: 'The Viewing Room' Offers Heartfelt Look at Tangled Family Relationships
Joe Siegel READ TIME: 2 MIN.
"The Viewing Room" focuses on one of the most difficult events in anyone's life: The passing of a family member. But playwright Mark Edward Smith takes a comedic approach in telling the story of the Dumbroskys, who gather at a funeral home for the memorial service of patriarch Chester (beautifully played by Steven Taschereau).
Matthew (Chris Sabatino), a writer from California, is the first to arrive. He is completely shocked when he sees his father come to life in his casket. Chester explains he has returned from the dead to mend relationships with his family, who all have reasons to despise him.
Matthew had a strained relationship with Chester, who spent more time trying to earn a living than tending to his children's emotional needs.
Chester's rather dim-witted widow Florence (Anne Faiella) sold the house Chester built and moved into a condo. She also splurged on a new Mercedes. Her reasons for hating Chester? He was "tight with money" and refused to let her get a job during their long marriage.
Chester's daughter Debby (Dawn Ferrisi) has psychic abilities and channels his spirit. His other daughter Patti (Linda Hernandez) is upset at Chester for refusing to pay for her wedding.
Chester's other son Steven (Michael Barresi) was the athlete of the family and has been given the task of delivering the eulogy for Chester.
The explanation for Chester's resurrection remains rather vague. It turns out only his family members can see and hear him. This leads to a zany moment when the funeral home employee (Lisa Forsgard) awkwardly attempts to dance with a ghost.
Many of the laughs in "The Viewing Room" result from Matthew's frantic attempts to prevent his siblings from realizing their father isn't as dead as they believed. Of course, eventually they do find out and share their grievances with Chester.
Director Jeanne Smith keeps things moving briskly, and generates strong performances from the cast. Sabatino, in particular, displays sharp comic timing as Matthew. His interplay with Taschereau is amusing to watch. Paul Oliver ("13 Past Midnight") is wonderfully earnest as Chester's son Chet, Jr., who has been estranged from the family for many years.
The moments when Chet Jr., reconciles with his father are undeniably touching due to the terrific work of Teschereau and Oliver.
The look of the funeral home is hauntingly realistic and detailed. Praise needs to be given to set designer Tammy England.
"The Viewing Room" makes us wonder what we would say if we had another chance to speak with our departed family members or friends. What a gift to be able to tell your mother or father how much they meant to you. Considering all the feelings we bottle up and never share, the opportunity to get it all out in the open is priceless.
The final scene is so heartfelt that some audience members will be reaching for the Kleenex. This is a sweet, good-natured show.
"The Viewing Room" runs through October 1. Attleboro Community Theatre. 71 North Main St., Attleboro, MA. For tickets, call 508-226-8100 or visit www.attleborocommunitytheatre.net.
Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.