Fierce humor colors Next Act’s ‘Three Views of the Same Object’

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Real life does not offer any “do-overs” — the chance to see how things would have turned out if key decisions had been made differently. But in art, all things are possible. The characters in Next Act Theatre’s Milwaukee premiere of Three Views of the Same Object live out three different versions of the same life-and-death scenario.

The play, which was to open April 3, concerns the end-of-life decisions made by Poppy and Jesse, two aging academics who have had quite enough of worldly challenges and not enough of each other. In their younger days, they’d agreed that if one died first, the other would willingly follow. But now the time is drawing near, and each is having doubts.

Playwright Henry Murray has developed three different scenarios for his actors, all of which occur concurrently during the same 24-hour period. The scenarios overlap and interconnect, with different actors playing the major roles on the same stage. 

By observing and digesting the actions of Poppy (Jim Pickering and John Kishline) and Jesse (Laurie Birmingham, Susan Sweeney and Flora Coker), the audience is given the rare opportunity to live through a series of “what-ifs” in what director Shawn Douglass describes as a brutally honest and fiercely funny play.

“The biting humor goes a long way to mitigate the great emotion that is also present in the story,” says Douglass, an artistic associate with Chicago’s Remy Bumppo Theatre Co. and teacher at Northwestern University. 

Thanks to Murray’s construction, the play is a showcase for the five performers playing the two principles. While the characters don’t interact outside their own scenarios, the subject matter is the same and the dialogue occasionally overlaps. Only the character of Mrs. Widkin (Jenney Wanasek) is consistent in every scenario. She becomes a connecting link among the stories.

“Part of the theatrical experience will be how it starts to knit together as the three individual realities play out at the same time,” Douglass says. “The interesting experience for the audience is the ability to gain insight into one character by watching all three aspects of his or her personality.”

The show’s veteran Milwaukee cast members have made the seemingly complex nature of Three Views more manageable for the director. They’ve also helped him better understand the author’s intent, as well as sublime depth of the story.

“I am drawn to plays that revel in language and wit and there is a lot of tightly written banter in the play that is great fun,” Douglass says. “What we have discovered, too, during rehearsal is that Henry Murray’s script appears simple in places, but has great depth to it.”

The play is likely to raise significant personal questions and prompt some soul searching among audience members. 

“In my own life, what if I had made one decision over another?” asks Douglass. “I think that’s a question most people have an interest in, perhaps even more so as we near the end of our lives.” 

On stage

Next Act Theatre, 255 S. Water St., Milwaukee, presents Henry Murray’s Three Views of the Same Object April 3–27. Call 414-278-7780 or visit www.nextact.org.