Whether or not she sticks with playwriting, Constance Congdon almost certainly has a future in television. She is adept at creating the kind of flaky , wacky characters that make TV sitcoms so popular.
Congdon’s newest play, “Losing Father’s Body,” in its world premiere at Next Theatre, is filled with off-the-wall types who are interesting for a few minutes , then rapidly loose their ability to command our attention or hold together a rather far-fetched plot.
“LosingFather’s Body” centers on strange developments surrounding the death of Andy Anderson, who has unexpectedly succumbed to a heart attack while on a Canadian hunting trip with his brother Cecil (John Dunleavy). As the play begins , Andy’s daughter, Kim (Marguerite Hammersley), and his son, Scott (Tim Decker), have arrived at the family home to comfort their mother, Pauline (Maureen Gallagher), and prepare for the funeral. No one, it seems, is dealing well with news of Andy’s death, and emotional denial is rampant. Pauline is popping pills; Kim is sneaking smokes on the porch, and Scott is jogging and taking numerous showers to ease his anxiety.
The situation worsens considerably, however, when fellow hunter George (G. Scott Thomas) decides to drive Andy’s body home from Canada. En route, George stops for a rest, and the car — with Andy’s body in a canoe strapped to the vehicle — is stolen by two Native Americans who have concocted a bizarre brother-and-sister country music act.
Fearful that Pauline will completely fall apart if she learns her husband’s body has been stolen, Kim and Scott decide to proceed with a closed-casket funeral and pretend Andy’s body is in it. But before the casket can be put in the ground, Congdon manipulates her already creaky plot just enough to allow the Anderson family to discover Andy’s body and participate in a weird, alternative burial in the wilds of upstate New York.
As silly as Congdon’s piece is much of the time, it might have worked better if the characters were more believable and sympathetic. But their annoying tics and eccentricities seem to interest Congdon more than anything else. Even so, the play does have one wonderfully funny sight gag revolving around Pauline’s last-minute decision to examine the casket’s contents.
Director Sarah Tucker hasn’t managed to mask the problems in Congdon’s script , though she tries to do so by maintaining a brisk pace and playing up all the characters’ quirks for their maximum laugh potential. Most of Tucker’s cast, however, aren’t up to mining the humor in Congdon’s strained material. Decker fares best as Andy’s son, the least interesting figure in the play. As the sedated Pauline, Gallagher turns in a bland performance, and Hammersley’s take on Kim is all on the surface. The rest of the cast is amateurish in a variety of supporting roles.
Set designer Scott Cooper’s residence and Andrew Meyers’ lighting are nondescript, but Linda Roethke’s costumes communicate a lot about the crazy characters wearing the outfits.