BY KELLY DOLEJSI
Writer Garrison Keillor once said, “They say such nice things about people at their funerals that it makes me sad to realize I’m going to miss mine by just a few days.”
Chester Dumbroski, the corpse and star of “The Viewing Room,” has figured a way around this temporal problem.
The show, written by Mark Smith and directed by Wendy Caldwell Lanchier, begins this weekend and runs at 7:30 Fridays and Saturdays March 11-26, with a matinee at 2 p.m. March 20, at the Los Alamos Little Theatre’s Performing Arts Center, 1670 Nectar St. Admission is $18 / $15 seniors and students at the door (cash, check, or card). Tickets are also available pre-sale at Boomerang Consignment and Retail (cash or check only).
“This play is so thought-provoking and funny on so many levels,” said Pat Beck, playing Chester. “Theater-goers will have plenty to chew on. Family dysfunction, forgiveness, and ultimate redemption are particular themes of ‘The Viewing Room,’ all presented with such wit, snark, and warmth.”
Director Caldwell Lanchier described Chester and his family, brought together to mourn him at his wake, as “an eclectic group, and the audience will be able to relate to them. I’ve seen this show so many times, and it still makes me laugh.”
“As a team,” she said, “we’ve focused on building trust and understanding with one another. It makes the interactions on stage more authentic. Every cast member has gotten to know their character, and it shows in their performances. The levels of nuance and detail never fail to bring a huge smile to my face. The cast is always willing to go on a journey to bring their characters to life, and they trust each other as performers. To me, that’s what separates a good show from a great show.”
Caldwell Lanchier also highlighted the set design.
“The set is incredible,” she said. “We built a casket, decorated the set to have a retro vibe, and used light and sound effects to further bring the story to life.”
Like Beck and Caldwell Lanchier, Terry Beery, playing Chester’s beloved — if taken for granted — wife Florence, finds the show hilarious. “I love this play because of the hilarious interactions among the family members. Each is a unique individual with their own special quirks, but it is clear that they deeply love each other.”
Chester and his wife Florence’s five children are portrayed by David Daniel, Teresa Bradford, Kelsey Dennison, Kelly Dolejsi, and Seona Zimmermann. Funeral director Jay is played by Thanos Stamatopoulos.
“In this play we see a large family, and each adult child has adapted in a different way, but what they have in common is that they all felt like they didn’t quite fit,” Daniel said. “We see this family (albeit very late in their own journeys) finally realize this, and really bond together in their shared strangeness, finally emerging from the wintry shadow the Greatest Generation threw over the entire Boomer era and I think that message will resonate with a lot of the folks in our town.”
Beery credited the cast’s successes in reaching deep into their characters at least in part to Caldwell Lanchier’s direction. “Wendy has a clear vision for each character, but encourages the actors to explore and develop who they are. This has resulted in some delightful surprises that go beyond what is on the page. Rehearsals have been so much fun with lots of laughter.”
Beck added, “Wendy is an intuitive, thoughtful, painstaking director. It’s hard to believe this is her first time directing, because her insights are so spot-on. She ends each rehearsal with a positive take on each actor’s contribution–unusual and very confidence-building.
Daniel said he hopes “this play, with so many fresh faces on the stage at LALT, will be the beginning of a renaissance of sorts in performing arts here in Los Alamos, so I hope you’ll come out to support the various different ventures that myself, and the others who share my vision of what’s possible here in town, will be bringing to stages of all sorts here in the local area over the course of the next year.”
Visit lalt.org for more information.