Three Views of the Same Object: Theater Review

Probing examination of three possible outcomes of a spousal suicide pact reveals many moving insights into our negotiations with death, with solicitude for both those who choose to terminate and those who are left behind.

An older couple and a terminal illness are depicted kaleidoscopically, with three different scenarios playing out for the husband and wife.

Having just seen Michael Haneke’s film Amour, I was somewhat wary about attending another project about an older couple facing terminal illness. Three Views of the Same Object approaches the same subject matter more kaleidoscopically, imagining three different scenarios for the same couple playing out simultaneously, as the action flows among three different actresses playing the role of the wife, Jesse, and two actors playing the husband, Poppy.

In one, Nancy Linehan Charles as Jesse is embittered by her mate’s decision to commit suicide and leave her behind alone. In another, Anne Gee Byrd and Allan Miller debate and bicker over the finer pros and cons of the choices they face (or avoid). In the third, K Callan and Shelly Kurtz find mutual support in the primacy of their bond over all other considerations. Threading through all three narratives is friend and caretaker Mrs. Widkin (Catherine Carlen), who subtly plays the role as three distinct people, mirroring the audience’s varying responses to each version of the couple.

Sensitively written and even more delicately directed, the intricate yet always accessible piece provokes a complex response to its central moral dilemma, as each view of the situation becomes vividly believable in the hands of these actors whose existence in the moment is unflaggingly palpable. Byrd adds yet another memorable creation to her gallery of cherishable performances over the last few years, her Jesse sardonic and chimerical, capable of suggesting both emotional distance and rich caring with the same gestures. Miller complements her with his offhand, effortless projection of the thoughtfulness behind his behavior, and Charles etches her portrait of a soul abandoned with acid anger.

While the play’s structure and conception may be somewhat conventionally modern, its strategy of mustering our emotional consideration of its issues in all the contradictory complexity that the subject deserves affords us our own evolving choices in evaluating those of the characters. It is never easy to contemplate the prospect of death, and if art can bring even the passing semblance of enhanced clarity, it has achieved something meaningful.

Playwright Henry Murray previously premiered his plays Treefall and Monkey Adored at Rogue Machine Theatre and this piece had been developed there as well, but after the script won the Joanne Woodward/Paul Newman Drama Award for 2011-2012, a prior production was mounted in Bloomington, Indiana, and then further revised for this “co-world premiere.” While not as original or distinctive as the earlier plays, Three Views of the Same Object demonstrates a stretching of his talent to encompass a larger range of themes.

Venue: Rogue Machine Theatre (runs through Nov. 4)

Cast: Ann Gee Byrd, K Callan, Catherine Carlen, Nancy Linehan Charles, Shelly Kurtz, Allan Miller

Playwright: Henry Murray

Director: John Perrin Flynn, Brett Aune & Hollace Starr

Set/costume Designer: Stephanie Kerley Schwartz

Lighting Designer: Leigh Allen

Sound Designer: Christopher Moscatiello

Producers: John Perrin Flynn, Matthew Elkins and Edward Tourier