In the Atlantic Stage production of Three Viewings, the actors face a tall order in overcoming playwright Jeffrey Hatcher's hackneyed script. When Nicole Borysowicz, in the role of a funeral jewel thief, says of a ring on a body in an open casket, "It seems to sparkle with every jewel in the planet," she's doing the best she can, but one can only do so much to polish a flawed gem.
When a play consists of nothing but three monologues, the writing needs to be tight and compelling. But Hatcher shows a propensity at nearly every turn for overwrought emotional dumping and stiff, stilted storytelling as he forces the actors to recount their characters' most traumatic memories with all the lyrical grace of a courtroom testimony.
In the first act, "Tell-Tale," Guy William Molnar tackles the role of Emil, a painfully shy funeral director who pines away for a realtor named Tessy who's always showing up at funerals. Molnar does an admirable job with the material, restraining his voice like a man who has spent his career speaking to people at a level barely above a whisper. He wrings his hands and swoons with heartbreak, delivering the lovelorn refrain "I love you ... I love you ... I love you" with a sense of melodrama that is, at least, appropriate to the script.
Borysowicz takes the reins for the second act, "The Thief of Tears," a casket-robber story that ends with a conceit so convoluted and a lamentation so unforgivably cheesy, it's a wonder she pulled it off with a straight face. The sparse set remains the same through all three acts: three floral-print plush chairs, in the style of a funeral home, with floral arrangements on side tables behind them. Borysowicz delivers the most kinetic performance in the show, sprawling across the chairs sideways and walking through the paces of her sordid stories.
In the third act, "Thirteen Things about Ed Carpolotti," Sandi Shackelford delivers a command performance, owning the strongest of the three monologues with a slow, careful grace. She remains seated the entire time, gesturing with an unlit cigarette as she tells the story of a late "wheeler-dealer" husband who leaves her with millions of dollars in unexpected debt — to the bank, to her brother-in-law, and to an apparent mob boss. She keeps her poise for most of the act, never milking a line for undue emotional weight, until finally letting the cracks show at the climax. She pulls off a feel-good, tough-love story with natural ease, drawing big laughs for the first time in the play and leaving many audience members with watery eyes in the end.
All things considered, the Myrtle Beach theater company has brought a strong effort to the Footlight Theatre stage. The one major flaw seems to be in the selection of the script.