Cold-hearted comedy

By Tom Helma

Purple Rose premiere aims for laughs by mocking bereaved

When a loved one dies, especially when the death is sudden and unexpected, those people closest to that loved one often find their entire lives screeching to a halt, their minds confused as to how something as tragic as this death could happen.

“Wake,” at Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre, is a play that attempts to combine comedy with pathos to illustrate this tragic moment in a person’s life.

While no one play can present the full range of complexities that accompany this traumatic experience, one wishes playwright Carey Crim had given a little more thought to the turmoil and less to how to get people to laugh at those affected.

Presenting grieving widow Molly Harrison as something of a ditzy, histrionically anxious agoraphobic diminishes the seriousness of the situation, and it suggests that extended grief is psychopathology rather than a healthy, necessary transformational experience through which one struggles.

Purple Rose veteran Michelle Mountain does her best at presenting Molly sensitively and compassionately, yet she is bound by the limitations of the script.

Stacie Hadgikosti, playing precocious, hyper-intelligent daughter Samantha, has greater success with a more fully defined role. Hadgikosti, all pre-adolescent squirmy and gushy, springing across the stage with a fullness of life, is not squished by something as unseemly as death.

Does it take the entrance of a new love to overcome the loss of someone central to one’s life? While it helps, this perspective reinforces the illusion that an “other” is required in order to be whole.

Crim has Molly ping-pong between new love Bill Simmons (played by Joe Frederickson) and the ghost of deceased husband Peter (played by Alex Leydenfrost), with Bill (no surprise) finally prevailing.

Meanwhile, Molly’s mother, Ivy Rose (played by Sandy Ryder), hovers throughout the play as a foil between full-of-life Samantha and scared-oflife Molly. Ivey is sometimes wise and sometimes off-kilter, suggesting, for example, that a full-sized, strawstuffed man-doll, anatomically correct in every detail, might help her daughter overcome her fear of finding a real man.

Leaving this play, one wonders what playwright Arthur Miller might have done with the theme of handling the loss of a loved one. Crim is no Miller, but she is still young and holds promise of more in-depth works to come.


Through Aug. 22 8 p.m. Wednesday - Friday 3 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturday 2 p.m. Sunday Purple Rose Theatre Co., 137 Park St. Chelsea $25-$38 (734) 433-7673