Life & Death > The Eulogist

The Eulogist

By GREG MAFFETT
Published: July 22, 2011

The venue was Generic Theater. Generic Theater is in the basement under the Chrysler Hall in Norfolk. In the midst of summer, they are putting on a series of Dog Days Plays.

Oh yes, these are the Dog Days. Heat Index was a solid 115 at dinner time. The idea of 'doing something' ran the gamut from anything air conditioned to anything air conditioned. A play in the basement of a concert hall...they could probably chill 1500 in the building if they had to and would only need to chill 50 in the basement. I green lighted this project in no time.

Finding the basement was neither easy nor hard. I circled 3/4 of the building until I found a sign pointing down. On entering, I took a seat on the far left. I noticed some better seats next to stage. Moved up there and was politely informed that they were um, well, actually sir, part of the play. I started to explain that my brother took an improv class once and I was sure some of it had rubbed off, but this lady was under the impression that she ran the place notified me there were no auditions and would i kindly...yeah, yeah, yeah.

I was back in the bleachers, row three. Very quickly the two rows filled ahead of me. Doughy guys and svelte women. Women in the 9 to 9.5 range on looks and 0.5 to 1.0 range on intelligence. Women whose sole purpose in life I deemed to be secretion containers. I guess doughy guys can do OK in this part of the world.

Two women took the other end of my row. Tough call on them, age said mother and daughter, but dress said lesbians. I know, Obama repealed "don't ask, don't tell" today, so perhaps that added to my confusion. This observation may appear tangential, but here is the thing. A play isn't just the stage, or the seats near the stage that the miffed director thinks she owns, no its that plus the people around you. People whispering, nudging and interacting from the appropriate seats. It would have been a different play without the moneyed snobs in front of me and whatever was beside me.

The audience was mostly white, but there were two black couples down front. Odd, until the cast started to show up on stage and in my preferred seating area. There I saw there were 2 black actors and 8 white actors. Ah now I could parse the 50 of so folks in the basement. There were at least 20 friends and relative of the cast. Plus the playwright was there, there were at least 6 people behind me who knew him. Ok, I was probably the only paying customer here who wasn't mobbed up. In this regard, small theater is a lot like the book my brother and i create annually. Limited audience, runs at a loss. I felt a twinge of kinship with the writer, until I saw him and added him to the list of doughy guys in the room.

First 2-3 minutes were not good. A number of self deprecating writerly remarks what with the man character being a writer and all, this could have tanked quickly. It then moved on to quoting eulogies of famous people. Really? This was looking more like a cut and paste research project...hrmm, actually an easy way to fill pages. I doff my hat to a guy who could write a play out of newspaper clippings. But eventually, maybe 30 minutes in, it did start to pick up. This was the first performance and it seemed that the talent on stage was able to get past the rough start. Eventually the writer seemed to get back on track and the play started to work. By intermission, it has gone from painful to pleasant. The idea of a professional eulogy writer was in fact enough to build a play around. Sure there were a lot of set pieces and tricks of the trade. But with a 10 person cast and limited budget, it was working.

Intermission gave me more time to overhear what was going on with the doughy guys and the ladies who hauled their ashes. It wasn't pretty, they had a third doughy guy that formed a fivesome and the odd man out was also out of job, which is prolly why he didn't have his own 9 to 9.5 cum catcher at his side. But I was able to figure out that the folks beside me were in fact mother and daughter. I'm thinking daughter was a the friend of a cast member.

Intermission ended and the people on and around the stage started walking around and saying stuff. There was trim brunette in the cast who was only a decade away from a doughy guy she could call her own. She came out and started the second act with a burst of energy directed at the eulogy writer. Luckily as she stormed off she mentioned that "he didn't have to end things this way." Indicating that as usual I'm clueless as to how a guy "ends things" by standing around getting screamed at. Perhaps, if I grasped that, I'd have one of those svelte semen sponges too.

God really does look out for drunks and Irishmen.

So where was I...oh yeah, in the vicinity of a play. In the end, the dialogue did improve and the actors worked into their roles and became real. The play was operating in the Harold and Maude space where you had the funeral chasing humor going on. By and large it worked. The laughs came at a solid enough pace that I was not overly distracted by the distractors in the general area.

The ending was a little abrupt and immediately the folks behind me started to talk about "wow, I like the new ending".

Then free food was wheeled out (because it was opening night) and alcohol as on its way, said the lady who had issues with where tall thin people sat.

I, of course, was the first person out of the well chilled hall and back into the sultry night air. I couldn't bring myself to stay. Not that I object to free food and booze. But you hang around these kinds of things the next thing you know, you start eating and then the next next thing you know you start getting doughy. And then if you are not careful people talk to you and well, how long is it from there until someone is reading your Eulogy?

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