Comedy and family drama meet in 'The Viewing Room'

“The Viewing Room” opens this Friday at the Winters Community Center.
In casket: Brad Haney L to R: Scott Schwerdtfeger, Cody Svozil, Cameron Toney, Robert Paywal, Dona Akers, Janene Whitesell

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Victorian-era playwrights created a genre of theater set in single rooms in which families and guests hashed out drama in real-time. These were called drawing room plays. “The Viewing Room,” a new play by Mark Smith and Winters Theatre Company’s (WTC) current production, takes that tradition from the family home to the funeral home in a zany “what-if” dramedy.  WTC veteran Jesse Akers directs this fast-paced two-act play. A grieving family gathers to mourn their patriarch’s passing…only to discover that he hasn’t quite passed yet. Chester comes back for one last afternoon to attend his wake, hear the eulogies and hash out some unfinished business.  Brad Haney plays the recently undeceased Chester, who takes the podium to set the record straight. Chester is a member of the Greatest Generation: He grew up during the Great Depression, fought in Korea and thinks that if you want a hug you should, “join a hippie commune.” His children have a lot of questions for him, and not all of them are related to how he miraculously came back from the dead. His ceaselessly sarcastic son Matthew (played by Cody Svozil), wants to know why he was kicked out of the house when he turned 18. His other son Steven (played by Scott Schwerdtfeger) would like an explanation about why his dad never came to his ball games. Their sister Patti (played by Cameron Toney) tries to be the mediator when she tells her father she doesn’t hold any resentment…expect why did he refuse to pay for her wedding? While one sister plays mediator, the other shows her hand a medium, complete with tarot cards and fits. But Debbie (played by Janene Whitesell) insists that she wasn’t the one to bring dad back, because she, “only does voices,” and is incapable of bringing back a full-scale apparition. Chester’s wife Florence (played by Dona Marie Akers), has some choice words for him as well. When did they stop going out dancing? Why didn’t they ever travel to Italy? And why does he have to make this day all about himself? Like the drawing room comedies that came before it, “The Viewing Room” uses the genre to explore the drama of everyday life. Throw some recognizable characters together, give them an extraordinary situation, block the exits and see what happens.  With all of the issues this family needs to work out before the final curtain, a lot happens. Resentments are aired and accusations are made. When the conversation gets too heated Chester can alway hope back into his coffin and close the lid, but he isn’t ready to rest in peace quite yet. He has a few more family knots to untangle before he heads back to the afterlife. Meanwhile the living family members have to deal with surprise visits from a well-meaning but unwanted undertaker (played by Chris Thaiss) and an unexpected guest (played by Robert Payawall).  “The Viewing Room” opens at the Winters Community Center on Friday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. There will be shows on Saturday, Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 6 at 2 p.m.; Thursday, Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Oct. 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 13 at 2 p.m.  The opening night show on Oct. 4 will be a gala with dessert and beverages. Tickets will be $15. On all other nights the tickets will be $10/$12. Tickets can be purchased at the door, on online at winterstheatre.org. For more information email winterstheatre@gmail.com or call 530-795-4014.]]>

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