6/4/11Lexington Herald-Leader

Review: Funeral-home play full of life

By Candace Chaney Contributing Theater Critic

If you think about it, all funerals, like weddings, contain strong elements  of theater. People have lines to memorize, roles to play, costumes to wear.  There is even an audience that will evaluate everyone’s performances on the way  home.
On the Verge takes the innate theatrical elements of funerals even further in  its latest production, Three Viewings.
A trio of monologues by Jeffrey Hatcher, Three Viewings stars Adam  Luckey, Robbie Morgan and Samantha Doane-Bates as three mourners grappling with  death.
The sold-out crowd that gathered Friday at Milward Funeral Home off Man o’  War Boulevard might have been there just to witness the curious spectacle of a  play in a funeral home, but they got much more than a unique experience — the  evening’s performances were simply exquisite.
Director Ave Lawyer deftly incorporates the serene funeral home — with its  lofty skylight and baby grand piano — into the fabric of the play. Read more:
WUKY – 6/2/11
FEATURE: Local Theater Group Uses Funeral Home for Stage
Brenna Angel (2011-06-02)
LEXINGTON, KY. (WUKY) - When Lexington theater group On The Verge Productions opens its latest play this weekend, it won’t be performed on a traditional stage. The venue for “Three Viewings” plays a significant role for the cast, the audience, and the show’s sponsor.
Jeffrey Hatcher’s “Three Viewings” is not your typical play. It has three acts – each a monologue from characters carrying on after death of someone important in their life.
“Three very different people dealing with very different issues telling very different stories,” says show director Ave Lawyer.LEXINGTON, KY. (wuky) – When Lexington theater group On The Verge
Productions opens its latest play this weekend, it won’t be performed on a
traditional stage. The venue for “Three Viewings” plays a significant role for
the cast, the audience, and the show’s sponsor.
Jeffrey Hatcher’s “Three
Viewings” is not your typical play. It has three acts – each a monologue from
characters carrying on after death of someone important in their life.
“Three very different people dealing with very different issues telling
very different stories,” says show director Ave Lawyer.
Lawyer is one of the founding members of On The Verge.
“Three Viewings” includes a funeral director who can’t work up the nerve to talk to his secret love, a woman who steals jewelry off corpses, and a sheltered wife coping with the loss of her husband. The stories are all set in a funeral parlor, which gave Lawyer the perfect opportunity to do some site-specific theater.
“We sort of look at Lexington as our stage and think alright here’s a very interesting theater piece, now wouldn’t it be more interesting if it was actually performed in a funeral home?”
“It was too good an opportunity to pass up.”
Enter Milward Funeral Directors. The family-run business has been in Lexington since 1825. They are primarily known for their locations on Broadway and Southland Drive, but Milward General Manager Grant Bolt hopes customers will  consider their newest facility that opened six months ago on Trent Blvd near Man O’War.
“It’s wide open. Wide open spaces, vaulted ceilings. You know the great room that we’re in now, you’re talking 40-foot ceilings, sky lights, a lot of natural light. You go into the reception area or the chapel area, you’re talking 16, 18-foot ceilings that are trayed, a lot of trim work to it,” says Bolt.  Milward wants to use the Man O’ War facility to expand its services beyond funerals to things like wedding rehearsals, receptions, and group meetings.
Sponsoring the play gives Milward more visibility, and it provides an atmosphere Lawyer was looking for.
“The viewings will be in three different parlors and the audience will move through the space and follow the actors. So it’s going to be an unusual experience.”
Robbie Morgan plays Mac, the woman who steals jewelry, in act two.
“When you’re in this size of a space with the real furniture and the ambiance of a funeral home, it really does change how you feel about how you’re portraying the character, where you get to move, how you get to interact
with a space, and how you get to interact with an audience that you know is sitting there remembering the last funeral they went to, trying to forget the last funeral they went to.”
“I slam down the coffin lid. Let’s get this show on the road! I propel Ed Carpolotti into the service room, the coffin cart banging into the door frame, I take the turn on two wheels, my heart is racing “
As actor Adam Luckey moves around the front reception room, audience members are at times only a couple of feet away from him.
The clip you heard was from the cast’s final dress rehearsal this week. Director Ave Laywer
had to cancel Wednesday’s run through because a real visitation needed the space.
“Three Viewings” opens Friday night, yes at a funeral home, but one that is trying to be more than just a funeral home. That irony isn’t lost on Lawyer.
“We didn’t want this to be sort of gloomy and dark and morbid  and lugubrious. The play is none of those things at all. It’s just celebrating people and who they are and how they rich we are and how individual we are and
what great stories we have.”

Play about funerals will be performed in a funeral home

Samantha Doane-Bates is one of three characters in Jeffrey Hatcher
Samantha Doane-Bates is one of three characters in Jeffrey Hatcher’s play Three Viewings, a trio of extended monologues about paying one’s respects that will be performed in an actual funeral home.

On the Verge troupe’s play about funerals will be performed in a funeral home

By Candace Chaney Contributing Arts Writer

Lexington theater audiences have learned in the past few years that a night at the theater does not always have to be a night at a theater.
From the early days of “Surprise Theatre” at Natasha’s Bistro, where diners were treated to sudden outbursts of drama, to an itinerant Actors’ Guild of Lexington’s conversion of retail space for a holiday comedy, to period-piece reproductions in historic homes, Lexington is becoming the kind of place where theater might happen anywhere.
Beginning this weekend, you can add a funeral home to the list of possible theater venues in Lexington.”We like to think of Lexington as our theater space,” Lawyer said.
“When I first read the script for Three Viewings,” Lawyer said, “it really spoke to me, but I thought there’s no way anyone would ever let us perform in a funeral home.”
May 12, 2011

Funeral home becomes center stage for local theater production

Lexington, KY – This June, Milward Funeral Directors will open the doors of its newest Lexington facility to the community for a different sort of viewing.
The local funeral services provider has offered its 7,500-square-foot funeral and reception center, located at 1509 Trent Blvd., to the Lexington theater group On the Verge as the venue for its upcoming production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s play Three Viewings, to be presented on June 3-5.
While not everyone has the creativity to envision the theatrical possibilities in a facility more commonly used for hosting final farewells, the arrangement has been a win-win proposition for both the theater group and the funeral business, said Ave Lawyer, the play’s director. It also serves as an excellent example of how a little out-of-the-black-box thinking can offer more benefits for local businesses and arts organizations than traditional sponsorships.
“I call it astute altruism,” Lawyer said. “They have a need for visibility, and we have a need for space.”
Grant Bolt, general manager for Milward Funeral Directors, said that any initial trepidation about the partnership disappeared after he read the script, which he described as a “perfect fit” with Trent Boulevard facility.
This was just so different, I couldn’t resist,” Bolt said. “The more I thought about it, the more I loved the idea.”
Milward’s Trent Boulevard location, which opened in December, is different from most people’s standard perception of a funeral home, Bolt said. Although the exterior looks similar to the company’s Southland Drive facility, the light and airy interior offers an open concept design with 40-foot-high ceilings, skylights, and a stone fireplace in the great room. The building, which features its own baby grand piano and flat screen televisions, is made to host a variety of gatherings, including church get-togethers, anniversary parties and wedding rehearsals, in addition to funeral services.
“It’s nothing like any funeral home around here,” Bolt said.
And although the performance will take place in a funeral home, there’s nothing macabre or lugubrious about the chosen play, Lawyer said. Three Viewings offers a portrait of three characters facing their own farewells, including a mortician (played by Adam Luckey) with a long-repressed secret, a young woman (played by Robbie Morgan) returning home to settle a score and a sheltered wife (played by Samantha Doane Bates) who discovers a startling truth about her marriage. Experiencing the story in an actual funeral home, however, promises to bring a palpable honesty to the tales for the audience members. At the same time, theatergoers will have the chance to see Milward’s new facility and all of its potential in a decidedly different light.
“It’s another way to get on the map and get people in the facility to see it, so everybody wins,” Bolt said.
And tailoring the production to fit the space will not be difficult, according to Lawyer.
“The space is enormous and it has so many possibilities,” Lawyer said. “It’s so flexible. I know there are going to be a lot of options.”
Staging productions in nontraditional space is not unusual for On the Verge, an informal group of local theater artists formed specifically to explore more challenging work and create untraditional experiences for audience members. In 2008, the group presented back-to-back, site-specific productions of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes at the Bodley Bullock House, and its prequel, Another Part of the Forest, at the nearby Hunt Morgan House. For those performances, a small audience followed the action from room to room through the historic buildings for an up-close-and-personal theater experience, and Lawyer expects the production of Three Viewings will offer something similar.
“What I found so fantastic was being so close to people who are behaving so badly,” Lawyer said. “It was that sense of being a fly on the wall.”
Initially, Lawyer didn’t think that kind of site-specific environment would be possible for Three Viewings. On the Verge was moving forward with plans to stage the play at a different site when a small sponsorship request grew into a complete venue change and a much larger show of support from Milward, which signed on as the show’s presenting sponsor. In the past, Milward has stepped up to support numerous other local arts groups, including the Lexington Opera House, Horse Mania and the Lexington Philharmonic, Bolt said.
And Milward is not the only business that will be getting in on the act at the June performances. A dessert reception provided by Bluegrass Baking Company will follow the performance, and an exhibit of portraits by Lexington photographer Lee Thomas will also be on display. Lawyer said Thomas’ portrait work offers a wonderful complement to the play’s theme of not taking people at face value.
Lawyer, who has a strong background in marketing as well as theater, knows that a successful arts partnership has to make sense for both the arts organization and the business.
“We never ask people to get involved if there’s no linkage with their brand,” Lawyer said.
With an open mind and some creative thought, businesses can get much more than the good will and personal satisfaction that comes from supporting the arts in their community — and often that involves a deeper involvement with the work.
“It gives the businesses a chance to interact with the audience,” Lawyer said. “It’s a chance to get in front of them and tell their story — to really be a part of it.”
For her part, Lawyer plans to continue pursuing those partnering opportunities, keeping an eye out for both the scripts and the businesses that will offer the next perfect fit in the future.
“When you start to think of Lexington as a theater, then so many other venues come to mind,” Lawyer said.


‘Little Foxes’ is engaging, worth many viewings

By Candace Chaney Contributing Theatre Critic

On any ordinary day, walking into Market Street’s Bodley-Bullock House is a little like walking back in time.
During the first week of November though, walking into the Bodley-Bullock House is like being suddenly and magically transported to the turn of the 20th century, with strong flavors of 19th century Southern aristocracy wafting throughout the house and out onto the back veranda, where you are greeted by a harpist, wine, hors d’oevres, and about 15 or so other guests.
After wine sipping and some genteel mingling, a period costumed guide appears and ferries the audience through the home’s front door and into the parlor for the opening performance of On the Verge Productions debut show, The Little Foxes.
Set in 1900, The Little Foxes is playwright Lillian Hellman’s scintillating family drama about the Hubbards, a wealthy Alabama family that clings to a false notion of entitled aristocracy while taking advantage of the South’s wealth of newly freed blacks to buoy their cut-throat business dealings.
Ostensibly a parlor room drama, The Little Foxes has far wider implications than a nostalgic nod to times past. It illuminates, through the Hubbard family, a pivotal moment in American history when the Old South lingered as a decayed parody of its former self and the industrial revolution stood poised to reshape the region’s identity.
Director Ave Lawyer artfully and intelligently displays these and other truths in this smart, thrilling, and elegantly executed production. The audience’s proximity to the actors creates a sense of intimate voyeurism of almost cinematic quality. Refreshments served between acts, when the audience moves about the house following the play’s action, makes you feel suddenly less like a voyeur and more like a participant, like an actual guest in the play’s household.On the Verge’s inaugural performance is more than a show — it is an experience, one that is elegant, novel, engaging, and one of a kind.

The Little Foxes’ at the Bodley-Bullock House

October 31, 2008 by Rich Copley
Voices from the past have filled the Bodley-Bullock House for the past few weeks, whispering and occasionally shouting about familial treachery.
This would be the right time of year for such spirits to arise in a nearly 200-year-old house, and people do say a ghost haunts the premises.
But more chatter floats to the high ceilings of the historic ­downtown Lexington house, which has been the home of a mayor and a general and even housed Union and Confederate troops at times during the Civil War.
These conversations are about props and costumes and scenes: The Bodley-Bullock House is now home to the inaugural performance by On the Verge Productions. That plot of family infighting and intrigue is the story of Lillian ­Hellman’s The Little Foxes, which the company is ­bringing to life on the first floor of the house. Each performance will play to a tiny audience that will move around the house as the action of the play changes rooms.

Review: Powerful, well-cast ‘Forest’ is tour de force for new troupe

By Candace Chaney Contributing Theater Critic

On the heels of its successful debut production, of The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman, newborn theater troupe On the Verge returns with Hellman’s prequel, the powerful, well-done and exquisitely cast Reconstruction drama Another Part of the Forest.
Set in 1880 Demopolis, Ala., the play follows the Hubbards, a Southern family with modest, non-aristocratic roots whose patriarch, Marcus, aggressively pursued war profiteering during the Civil War. Now that the war is over, the Hubbards are one of the few Southern families not economically ruined. In fact, they are quite wealthy. But they are also despised by the community. A few minutes into the play, it is easy to see why.
Not only are they perceived as traitors against the Confederacy, the Hubbards are unabashedly enterprising and ruthlessly self-serving as individuals, each spinning a separate web of Machiavellian pursuits. Frequently, they employ faux Southern gentility as their weapon of choice, though occasionally all perceived order breaks down into emotional and physical violence.
Thematically sophisticated and elegantly wrought, Another Part of the Forest matches the grandeur of its period-appropriate setting, the Hunt-Morgan House in downtown Lexington. Like the earlier production of The Little Foxes at the nearby Bodley-Bullock House, this show works in symbiosis with its space, including the small, limited audience who follow the play’s actions from room to room throughout the house. The experience is sublime, indulgent and at times, a little surreal.

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