You know those coffins you’ve been seeing out on the steps for the past few weeks? Well apparently the CU Players have decided to finally lay the corpse to rest and have the funeral this weekend … over the course of three days in the Lerner Party Space of all places. Bwog’s Interactive Theater Bureau Chief Jon Edelman was in attendance for last night’s first round of the matriarch’s drawn-out funeral.
Grandma Sylvia’s Funeral brings the concept of interactive theater out of the realm of Italian stereotypes, so prevalent after the success of environmental theater pioneer Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding, and into the realm of Jewish stereotypes, a theme more fitting with trends in Columbian comedy. Beyond that, though, the show isn’t that original. But it is still pretty damn funny.
Here, as in Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding, the show incorporates the audience into the cast of players, in this case as the assembled attendees for the memorial service of Grandma Sylvia, matriarch of a feuding Jewish family. This motley clan is composed of both the dysfunctional members you’d expect (the drunk, the slut) and the ones you wouldn’t (the condescending psychologist, the gay vampire).
The interactive experience begins on the line outside the show, as the family members act as ushers, distribute yarmulkes, have loud arguments, and search for the missing rabbi. While this technique establishes the characters and makes the wait to get in more bearable, the audience reactions are sometimes unpredictable and not always cooperative: some dutifully played along, contributing reminiscences of the departed, while others did their best to mess with the actors, claiming that they had come to see a play, not a funeral, and weren’t sure who Sylvia was.
The show then moves downstairs into the Lerner Party Space, redecorated as the Helsenrott Jewish Funeral Home. As the “service” begins, with the actors scattered amongst the audience create a steady stream of disruptions. It’s a long service, but not a boring one, complete with a disastrous recorder performance, a sequined shirt, yams, a catfight, and a marriage proposal. The interruptions and arguments are mostly witty and well-acted, and Matt Herzfeld, CC ’12, stands out as an awkward Hebrew-Union College student drafted to lead the service at the last minute.
But while the general level of chaos is funny, the play doesn’t have much momentum—there’s no sense that the conflicts and disruptions are building towards anything bigger. The excitement of the family tension heating to a boil is missing, lost amidst funny bits. I wanted a humorous, climactic explosion, but the resolution simply slides out. Nevertheless, Grandma Sylvia’s Funeral is amusing throughout, and well worth seeing before it’s put to rest. The play runs this Friday at 7 pm and 11 pm and Saturday at 1 pm, tickets available at the Lerner Box Office.