Jake Tkaczyk and Josh Travnik, as Younger Jack and Young Maurice, in 10 Funerals. Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography.
Occasionally I am watching some fictional characters on stage (or on screen, or in a novel), wondering what’s going to happen to them next. And suddenly I’m astonished to realize that these characters do not even exist outside of the scenes that I am seeing. That happened to me tonight, partway through the performance of 10 Funerals, Darrin Hagen’s new play directed by John Hudson for Shadow Theatre. I wondered about some things between the scenes, and about what was going to happen after the final scenes had played out, and I had totally forgotten that these characters were not real outside of this script – because they felt so real, so believable, so irritating and stubborn, so consistently themselves throughout the 35+ years spanned by the storyline. Which is particularly impressive, because each character is played by two actors alternating. Young Maurice is played by Josh Travnik and Older Maurice is Doug Mertz, and Jake Tkaczyk and Nathan Cuckow play younger and older Jack, respectively.
One fascinating thing about watching this production is working out which young character grows into being which older one, and learning about why. Some mannerisms continue, and some of the couple’s habits and rituals and petty arguments recur. I won’t point them out, because it’s more fun to notice them.
And at the same time we are watching this particular couple through the years of their life together and the various funerals they attend together, we’re seeing the personal effects of various aspects of gay men’s lives through the last 40 years. Not just the community funerals of the early years of the AIDS crisis, but the experiences of leaving small judgemental towns for cities with their own dangers, the various relationships with families-of-origin, the issue of not having a good word to describe what they are to each other, or the legal recognition of their relationship – and also the bars, hookups, drugs, drag queens, music, and style. Oh, the style! – costume designer Leona Brausen has done an amazing job of capturing the changing fashions in clothing, hair, and facial hair over the periods, and illustrating the differences between the characters, even in the understated situations of dressing for funerals.
Parts of this play are sad. Parts of it are horrifyingly illustrative of how the injustices of our lifetime have not all gone away, but we’ve become accustomed to them. But some of the dialogue and physicality is absolutely hilarious. 10 Funerals is playing at the Varscona Theatre until May 14th – including Pay what you can, Two for one, and Safe Sunday performances. Tickets here or at the door.