Home Sweet Funeral Home, Alliance Theatre Lab’s anthology of short plays set in the same funeral parlor, is a mostly enjoyable mixed bag of comedies, with the odd little touch of drama. The evening’s eight playwrights had just four requirements: the funeral home setting, writing characters in their late teens or 20s, using a toothbrush in the play and incorporating the line, “Why did it have to be that book?”
The toothbrush and the line are gimmickry that don’t particularly pay off (never has a toothbrush been put to such odd uses). But the writers do give the young cast of nine a chance to display their versatility and comedic chops under the direction of actor-playwrights David Michael Sirois and Mark Della Ventura at Barry University’s Pelican Theatre..
The first piece, Marjorie O’Neill-Butler’s Scavenger Hunt, is centered on a couple doing just what the title suggests. Adam (Della Ventura) is the one in control, while his girlfriend Carrie (Breeza Zeller) thinks that swiping stuff from a funeral home is just plain creepy. She’d be right, of course, if there weren’t more to the story. O’Neill-Butler packs a surprising amount of sweetness and sentiment into such a short play.
Tony Finstrom’s Venom & Vodka is a tart little play about a woman who’s downing a martini as she stands beside the open casket of her hubby, a widely despised Tampa theater critic. (Why do playwrights love killing off theater critics? Because they can.) Sipping her cocktail and speaking like a Noel Coward character, the recently widowed Gail (Anne Chamberlain) is surprised when a young actress named Janice (Natasha Waisfeld) shows up, though not exactly to pay her respects to Mr. Poison Pen.
In Christopher Demos-Brown’s lustily vulgar Protagonista, a “mommy porn” novel’s main character (Rayner Garranchan) starts his usual R-rated romance novel spiel, then gives up and exhorts his creator (Sirois) to try some serious literature for a change. The back-and-forth between the protagonist and author is smart and clever, but Protagonista is heavy-handed in its sexual aggressiveness.
Actress and playwright Alexandria Iona sets up an improbable scenario in It’s Just Not That Serious. Friends Emily (Waisfeld) and Carly (Zeller) are bidding farewell to a third friend, a suicide victim. Carly is understandably upset, but Emily argues that their friend knew what she wanted. There’s a twist at the end, but it isn’t enough to save a flawed premise.
Mariah Reed’s Grave Matters features two lifelong friends, popular Margaret (Chamberlain) and nerdy Mark (Della Ventura), getting ready to transform Mark’s life at the funeral home. A self-proclaimed “vampire,” Victoria (Iona), injects a note of sexy danger. The play is silly, really, but Della Ventura’s low-key acting style makes Mark a loser worth liking.
Andie Arthur’s Performance Review is a dense, brainy piece in which the archangel Raziel (Jovon Jacobs) gives Death (Stephanie Meskaukas) a job evaluation.
The program ends with its two directors’ plays. Della Ventura has created some great characters in Mr. Ross’ Loss, namely the vapid, makeup-obsessed Gabby (Zeller); addicted gamer Steven (Garranchan); sexy yet creeped-out Samantha (Waisfeld), and nervous Jillian (Chamberlain), who calms herself by singing — everything. The actors have a blast inhabiting this vibrant young quartet, but again, the premise isn’t believable.
Sirois closes out the evening with Catapult Confection, a play showcasing three characters from his successful full-length Alliance hit Brothers Beckett, which will be presented at Miami’s Arsht Center in March. This time weather gal Joyce Elliot (Iona) is mourning her dad’s passing, with the help of pal Brad Beckett (Sirois) and their slovenly friend Doug (Della Ventura). The boys act like they’re 14 and in a locker room, but in his playwright role, Sirois injects some welcome emotional depth into Joyce’s complicated relationship with departed dad.