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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Next Act's Tour de Force Season Closer

Love transcends death in 'Three Views of the Same Object'

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Next Act Theatre closes its season with a tour de force from playwright Henry Murray and a cast of veteran Milwaukee actors. Three Views of the Same Object explores, through three separate iterations, the story of Poppy and Jesse, an elderly couple who made a suicide pact and now face health issues that bring the question to the fore. Although the subject matter is emotionally demanding, it is handled with such tenderness, incisive humor and reality as to make its artistic and psychological value unquestionable.

Working within a beautiful living room set by William Boles, and under the direction of Shawn Douglass, the six-member cast makes this story soar from beginning to end. Jenny Wanasek’s Mrs. Widkin fluidly connects the three iterations, acting as a true and endlessly patient friend to Jesse and Poppy and, in each version, bringing a touchstone of pragmatism and strength to the difficult scenarios.

As Jesse and Poppy 1, Laurie Birmingham and James Pickering show us the story pervaded by suffering and dark humor. Jesse uses alcohol to mitigate the overwhelming anger, grief and helplessness she feels in light of Poppy’s choice to stop chemotherapy. Poppy offers loving deference even to a fault and, although their story is full of regret, love cannot help but bring redemption.

Susan Sweeney and John Kishline’s Jesse and Poppy 2 play out a version full of sunlight, even at close of day. The two are heartbreakingly charming in their enduring mutual affection, care for friends and family, and even the romance of their departure. It is difficult to see this pair as anything other than eternally young lovers.

Flora Coker engages the story from another perspective entirely—Jesse is already alone. Whether roaming her house carrying Poppy’s shoes, confronting her estranged daughter or grieving through self-reflection, this Jesse gives us the most substantial glimpse of the character’s psyche. In a play about love and relationship, Coker leaves us with an equally important vision of the strength of the individual.

Challenging, funny and utterly salient to viewers of all ages, Next Act’s Three Views of the Same Object is surely one of the season’s best productions.

It runs through April 27, at 255 S. Water St. For tickets, call 414-278-0765 or visit nextact.org.