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Review: 10 Funerals a poignant and funny take on death

Life is often remembered in milestones and moments; graduations, weddings, births and deaths.

Life is often remembered in milestones and moments; graduations, weddings, births and deaths. Edmonton playwright Darrin Hagen takes death, more specifically funerals, as the launch point for 10 Funerals, Shadow Theatre's season-ender playing at the Varscona.

Shadow artistic director John Hudson directs this poignant, often funny dark comedy; a series of scenes built around the lives of Maurice and Jack, from their 20-something selves attending yet another friend's funeral (the early 80's, when AIDS first ravaged the gay community) to funerals that happened over the next 30 years, Right along with this twosome, the audience revisits the aftermaths of some of the moving, or hilarious, funerals they've survived.

Did you see what she was wearing? How could they not mention his partner? What music would you have at your funeral? What do you mean my outfit is too flashy for a funeral? Yes, these are silly, funny, uncomfortable conversations, like when Maurice asks why Jack has never told his mother about his life partner/lover/best friend? 

As the older Maurice, Doug Mertz is delightful; appropriately dramatic, angsty, angry, and loving with Jack, sparring over a post-funeral cup of coffee and still pushing his partner over why he never mentions him to his mother. Older Jack is the level-headed straight-man, so to speak, to emotionally-charged Maurice, and Nathan Cuckow is pitch perfect in the role. No matter how much they bicker, the affection between the two characters (and actors) is genuine and engaging throughout the 80 minute one-act.

Younger Jack, Jake Tkaczyk is likewise effective, hanging up messy Maurice's jacket time after time, making coffee and reassuring his high-strung lover that no, they likely aren't next to die and yes, he'll play the 16-minute-long MacArthur Park at Maurice's funeral, if he insists--and it has to be the original Richard Harris version. 

Younger Maurice gets some of the best lines, offered up in earnest by Josh Travnik. The pair have a nice chemistry too, like their older counterparts. Not to give away the ending, but it's a sweet and tender conclusion for a pair that made their lives together in tumultuous times and kept steadfast, even as the world offered up oppression and prejudice.

Hagen wrote this play a while back, and it was meant to hit the stage for its world premiere before the pandemic--but it's worth the wait.

10 Funerals runs through May 14 at the Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.