By Michael Buzzelli
It’s a funeral and you’re invited. Mourners gather to pay their respects to Molly J. Parker (Chelsea Conway) and eulogize her in Sara Baines-Miller’s “Not a Mourning Person.”
This latest Fringe Festival offering from the Thoreau N.M. production has a simple, elevator pitch, “What if you got to go to your own funeral?” The end result is hilarious and traumatic.
When the pastor (Louise Fox) invites the audience to sing “Amazing Grace,” a bizarre “Twilight Zone” time-stop occurs – a scratch the record needle – and Molly appears at her own funeral. The recently-deceased provides running commentary on the eulogies from her fourth-grade teacher Mrs. Flemming (Lisa Germ), her very intoxicated brother, Sean Parker (Stephen Toth) her best friend (Lisa Germ again) and to her fiancé, Charlie (Stephen Toth again) with a few others in between (also Germ and Toth).
Through the course of the show, we learn that Molly has a difficult time waking up for her day job, and the morning/mourning homophone becomes a double entendre.
Then, a mysterious figure (played by Mary Randolph) shows up to collect Molly and take her to the next stop in her journey onward (Heaven and Hell are not specified, but heavily implied).
Conway is superb as the Ghost of Molly J. Parker. Her deadpan delivery refuting the eulogy of her office co-worker Karen (Germ) is magnificent. Later, when her aforementioned fiancé, Charlie (Toth) dutifully marches up to the podium, Conway is devastated, and the result caused many audience members to well up with tears. When Germ returns to the podium for the last time, the floodgates are open and gushing.
Mary Randolph does an amazing job as the Not-So-Grim Reaper. She’s a joy, delivering sarcastic barbs and pointed remarks. She is a down-to-earth angel, who eschews the typical biblical platitudes in favor of plain English. There is a moment when Randolph’s transforms to another character and it’s one of the best moments of the show.
Germ and Toth do remarkable jobs playing a variety of characters, all mourning Molly in their own distinct (perhaps idiosyncratic) ways.
Fox deftly plays the part of the pastor. She has a gentle softness about her. The character knows only kindness, even after an inflammatory tirade delivered by the dearly departed’s baby brother.
Skapura keeps the action frenetic, moving the actors off the stage and out into the audience. While it’s not technically an immersive piece, there are immersive moments (pity the dude who sits in the “Uncle Jeff Seat”).
Playwright Sara Baines-Miller continues to process her grief in new and unique ways. Her new Fringe Festival play, “Not A Mourning Person” takes the Meryl Streep quote, “Take your broken heart and turn it into art,” to a whole new level. During the pre-pandemic days (Fringe Festival 2019), Baines-Miller decimated audiences with “Favorite Colors,” a thoughtful and poignant piece about the death of her best friend. “Not a Mourning Person” covers similar territory in a fresh, new way.
“Not a Mourning Person” had a limited run during the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival, but if a production of this supremely delicate work by Baines-Miller runs again, jump on a chance to mourn with Molly.