A chair next to a casket does not immediately register as the best setting for a wry comedy on the pains of longing or deception. Morbid humor, perhaps, but maybe not the most sophisticated of humor. Yet Jeffrey Hatcher's Three Viewings unfolds in a funeral parlor, next to three different corpses, as three individuals opine on their relations with the deceased and the small town they are a part of.
"People ask me if it's a drama or a comedy and I say yes," jokes Sandi Shackelford, a founding member of Atlantic Stage, the Myrtle Beach company slated to perform the show during Piccolo. "It is a dramatic piece, but there certainly is comedy, as there is in everything these days."
The last of the three vignettes that comprise the show is the most comical, says Shackelford — only partly because it's the segment in which she stars. "I was cast because I am the oldest person in the company," she says deprecatingly. "And I'm really glad, because I really like doing this piece."
The segment, "Thirteen Things about Ed Carpolotti," centers on Virginia, who has recently discovered that her newly deceased husband implicated her in a few shady business dealings. "She owes half a million dollars to the bank and to mafia members," Shackelford says. "Her entire life is turned around."
Shackelford is charged with developing the character, which she calls well-rounded, as she wallows briefly in the sorrows of misfortune before weaving back to a positive viewpoint. The part requires little movement — "I sit in a chair with a cigarette in my hand the whole time," she says — but that doesn't mean the gig is any easier. Rather, Shackelford says the lack of physicality and interaction with other characters makes the part a challenge. "I like doing this because it has a lot to do with timing, and also the degree of passion. I mean, how upset do I get at the discovery of what he has done? But it's really more disappointment than anything."
The challenges excite Shackelford, who is the only member of the cast who has performed in Piccolo previously. She entered the performance into the festival's selection process before the rest of the company fully understood or had even heard of the event. "The company is only four years old, and this is the first time we've ever submitted anything," Shackelford says. "I said, 'I'm doing this,' and I don't think they thought that much of it. I told them there [are] an awful lot of submissions, so I was so excited to go tell them we got picked."