One of the exciting things about theater in rep is experiencing both the differences and similarities between the shows. Trinity Repertory Company’s Three By Three offers area audiences this unique opportunity. The first two shows, Sparrow Grass and Mourner’s Bench, certainly have some sharply contrasting elements, but they deal with many of the same issues. They deal with the ties of family and how those ties can be strained, broken, healed or severed forever.
The “bench” of the Mourner’s Bench is a piano bench. A specific bench at a piano in a particular room, a bench and a room where an unspeakable tragedy once occurred. Through three acts, the audience experiences how that tragedy impacts the lives of people who are connected to the bench, and the house, in different ways. While they have different kinds of connections to it, they are touched very deeply by the memories the room holds for them as well as what the room provides for them in the present.
Playwright George Brant does mine some familiar territory here, that a particular object or place can have profound meaning for people. It might a room in a house, such as the well-known play The Dining Room, to the house as a whole, as in Clybourne Park, which Trinity presented earlier in the season. Still, Brant finds new ways to connect these characters to this place. Some of the relationships are surprising, some of the memories, emotions and responses are shocking.
Along the way, Brant offers much to think about. Themes running through these interconnected stories include love, forgiveness, redemption, justice, revenge, mortality, faith and hope. All heavy stuff but the playwright handles them well, as does Director Michael Perlman and his cast. They trust the writing and each other as they allow the play to move at its own pace, letting them happen naturally.
The cast, all resident acting company members, work nicely together as their characters struggle to face the tragedy they share, whether they all realize it or not. Each of the three acts features just two actors and the pairs have magnificent chemistry during their time together.
Act one features the wonderful Angela Brazil and Mauro Hantman, giving his best performance of the season, as a brother and sister. They experienced the horrible event most directly and it’s a powerful scene as they try to deal with still-lingering repercussions. The second act deals with two aunts of that brother-sister pair, as they try to handle the post-tragedy logistics, such as who will raise the children. Janice Duclos and Phyllis Kay are fabulous together as two more siblings with some serious issues. It’s especially fun to watch Kay play such a different role from one she’s performing at the same time in Sparrow Grass. Finally, act three highlights the couple who purchased the house after the tragedy happened. The power of the place deeply affects them as well in a scene played impeccably by Anne Scurria and Timothy Crowe.
Knowing that many involved with the play are also doing two other shows at the same time makes the whole thing even more impressive. The quality of the production, the play itself and the performances, is sure to bring audiences back for the third and final production of Three By Three in rep.
The Mourners’ Bench, Trinity Rep. 201 Washington St, Providence. Runs thru May 24