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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

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Laurie Birmingham and James Pickering in "Three Views of the Same Object," now at Next Act Theatre.
Laurie Birmingham and James Pickering in "Three Views of the Same Object," now at Next Act Theatre. (Photo: Timothy Moder)

Next Act's "Three Views of the Same Object" soars on shoulders of giants

"Three Views of the Same Object," the Henry Murray play that opened Friday night at Next Act Theatre and runs through April 27, is a story of honor and betrayal, truth and lies, the things we do either for or to the people we love.

And in this production, it’s a story told on the shoulders of giants.

Certainly it tells a story about growing old and about the way we all must face the impending end of our lives. It is certainly about the right of each of us to determine how best to hold on to some sense of dignity as the end comes near.

But more than that, it is a story of love, what it makes us do and what it enables us to not do.

There is one old couple in the play, Poppy and Jesse. But there are three versions of this couple, giving us "Three Views of the Same Object," that object being how we want to have some say in how this whole thing comes to an end.

At some point in their lives, Poppy and Jesse signed a suicide pact. When the end was near, they wanted to go together.

It all sounds neat and tidy, but life isn’t tidy. It’s messy and full of unexpected twists and turns. The best laid plans … and all of that.

Poppy comes down with cancer and comes face to face with the reality of his life. And Jesse faces that reality too, but there are obviously different ways to anticipate and deal with the same approaching outcome.

I’m not going to give away how the end comes for each of these couples. But the end seems unimportant when compared with the tortuous journey they each take to get there.

As I said, the story, complicated as it is, is carried to almost unimaginable height on the shoulders of giants in the Milwaukee theater world.

The six actors – James Pickering, Laurie Birmingham, John Kishline, Susan Sweeney, Flora Coker and Jenny Wanasek – may well be one of the finest casts of local actors ever assembled. 

They lift this play beyond reasonable expectation, and their work is eloquent testimony to the abundant quality theater available in this city. 

Coker’s Jesse is an absolute mess. She has been left alone and is full of wonder at what her life has become.

"I feel like I’m in an airplane looking down on my life," she says. "I just want the plane to land."

She has touched the moment we all have throughout our lives when we want the sorrows and pains to come to an end and leave us in peace. It doesn’t matter if you are old or young, that’s always something we all deal with.

Pickering’s Poppy, who quietly suffers the slings and arrows of his Jesse, tries so hard to explain what has happened to their lives.

"I was so buried in my own reality that I couldn’t see you," he says. 

This is a play about aging and what we all face. But it is so much more about our lives and how we live them by choice and how we live them by happenstance. It is moving and powerful and with an absolutely arresting set by William Boles, it demands a full focus from the audience.

This is a production not just for the aged, but for the ages.

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