By Emily Schwatrz
Directed by Jess McLeod
Produced by The Strange Tree Group
At Signal Ensemble Theatre, Chicago
A workable re-imagining of the 2006 quirky hit.
Since 2004, I have followed the growth of playwright Emily Schwartz and her fellow artists at The Strange Tree Group. Their 2006 hit, Funeral Wedding: The Alvin Play is now re-thought at Signal Ensemble Theater with a new cast of quirky characters.
Funeral Wedding (The Alvin Play) is a Victorian Gothic style dark comedy set in pre-World War I America about an oddly dysfunctional family. We meet Alvin (Daniel Behrendt) self-confined in his two room attic space for the last year. Alvin has emotional problems making him neurotic, emotionally spent and guilt ridden. Behrendt talks directly to the audience as he connects to us about his life, his family and his problems. Alvin is so empathetic that we quickly like him. His family has a ineffectual father (Ron Thomas), a demanding and controlling mother (Jennifer Marschand) and a social climbing sister, Ann (Delia Baseman) who Alvin admits he has lusted after in a dream.
I enjoy playwright Emily Schwartz’s blend of humor with the macabre and her silliness with her richly developed wacky characters. She spins an unpredictable story line that produces mysterious elements within her unique plots. Schwartz is a talented playwright. She’s back again with a re-imagined weird, funny, yet dark Gothic melodrama that is part murder mystery, part psycho sexual repressed people with deliciously disturbing characters. This production has the same wacky interaction as the 2006 production.
Alvin has a secret he is unable to articulate that renders him dysfunctional and a recluse. He witnessed the murder of two young girls yet he refuses to neither acknowledge nor talk of the event. He is on heavy medication while he struggles with his trauma. Who is the murder? He fears the family doctor (Scott Cupper) and we learn that the evil commanding physician lusts after Alvin as well as his sister Ann. The show takes place in Alvin’s messy bedroom ( set by Scott Davis) where a mote vaudevillian musician (Zachary Sigelko) underscores the action with his mandolin. A cute touch.
Alvin is visited by the ghosts of the two slain girls who haunt him into revealing their fate. Will Alvin be able to handle the relentless prodding from his sister and father to leave the room and rejoin society? When Ann announces she is going to marry the doctor, Alvin becomes distraught. Without giving away key plot elements, let me state that this play contains many funny moments and clever twists that play out deliciously and unpredictably.
Filled with much sexual fantasy and twisted characterizations, Funeral Wedding: The Alvin Play is refreshingly different in structure and content. It still contains enough quirkiness to be pleasing. In a tighter, more streamlined script, this production still delivers a strange, nonintoxicating likable and thoroughly entertaining show. It evokes Edward Gorey, Tim Burton and Charles Addams. Daniel Behrendt’s performance was empathetic and honest. Come see the quirky stage craft and imaginative storytelling by Emily Schwarz and her crew at The Strange Tree Group. Funeral Wedding: The Alvin is a well-crafted Gothic mystery worth seeing.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: October 28, 2012
For more info checkout the Funeral Wedding: The Alvin Play page at theatreinchicago.com
At Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Bernice, Chicago, IL, www.strangetree.org , tickets $25, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7 pm, running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes with intermission, through November 18, 2012