Three sisters, three lifestyles, a handyman and three secrets. In “Very Heaven,” the third world premiere of the Centaur’s current season, three women return to the family home to scatter their mother’s ashes and deal with her estate. Burying the dead becomes a time for re-establishing and redefining relationships and exposing family secrets.
Playwright Ann Lambert’s opening scene depicts the oldest sister, Harriet — who has made marriage and motherhood her full-time career — tripping while carrying the urn bearing her mother’s ashes. As directed by Eda Holmes, Harriet’s frantic sweeping and apologies to the urn may not blend comfortably with later sequences, but the slapstick humor certainly amuses the audience.
The tone soon changes into an emotional tug-of-war among Harriet and sisters Juliet, a single mother on the poverty line, and Lee, a cow-punching lesbian, back from her Wyoming ranch.
Jane Wheeler’s Lee quickly becomes the most likable — as well as the most believable — taking command of the stage as she strides around in cowboy boots. Yet it is Judy Beny’s prim Harriet who seems to be in control of the household, while Mary Harvey’s intentionally irritating Juliet screams loser at every turn.
Watching over her daughters is their dead mother, Rose. Seated in an armchair on the upper level of Christopher Brown’s attractive set, Louise Nicol employs highly effective body language to demonstrate her interest in the revelations below. Paradoxically, she appears more removed from the action when she speaks than when she watches.
The family dynamic changes with the appearance of handyman Francois, played with consummate skill by Gerard Gagnon. He knew a different Rose, and understands her reasons for telling the girls the lie that changed their lives.
So far, so good. In a solid production that pays careful attention to detail, “Very Heaven” presents an understandable scenario and establishes interesting characters. The weakness lies in the lack of resolution. Can Harriet resume a life, now that its glaring imperfections have been exposed? Will Juliet receive what is rightfully hers? Can Lee come home again? Will Francois simply fade away? Will the girls meet their father again?
Too many questions are left unanswered in a script that does not end satisfactorily. As it stands, “Very Heaven” is too much like a lingering glance at a family out of the window of a moving train.