It’s Your Funeral: fun-filled romp at the Playhouse

Rodney the Bookie (l) (Derek Moran) and George Cranston (Aidan DeSalaiz) are desperate not to let Helen Cranston (Zoë Sweet) know that their latest scheme to save Heaven’s Door Funeral Home is about to fall through. (Photo contributed)

MORRISBURG – There’s nothing like being enthusiastic about the work you do and optimistic about your business future.

“We’ll put on a show like these people have never seen,” George Cranston tells his wife, Helen. After all, he’s planning the best “grand opening” in history, one that will amaze and impress future customers. Based on just this first weekend, George confidently expects that the Cranston’s Heaven’s Door Funeral Home will shortly become the talk of the town.

And so it will.

Unfortunately just not for any of the reasons that George so fondly anticipates.

And audiences for It’s Your Funeral, Jamie Williams’ madcap new comedy now running at Upper Canada Playhouse, will be glad they’re along for the ride.

George and Helen Cranston have sunk every penny of her inheritance into Heaven’s Door Funeral Home. It’s a financial do or die venture for the couple, made even more difficult because George, a reformed gambler, “threw away” a large chunk of their original inheritance playing the ponies.

With the most important funeral of their fledgling career, a ‘send off’ for the mother of the crusty Attorney-General scheduled, the couple needs everything to be absolutely perfect.

Of course, that is the cue for everything to go horribly and hilariously wrong.

Heaven’s Door, blessed (per the terms of the sale) with a staff just slightly left of bizarre, already has a shady past. And out of nowhere, George’s ex-bookie chooses to pay a ‘social call.’ Then, to everyone’s dismay, the curmudgeonly senator himself arrives, already “loath” to have his mother’s funeral in this particular funeral home.

Later, ominously, on behalf of some business “investors” the Cranstons have never met, a person calling himself only The Accountant also makes his appearance.

He is definitely not a CPA.

Toss in a disappearing body, inopportune bundles of cash, secret passageways, shifting coffins and mixed up medical files and the scene is set for laughter.

In the tradition of classic farce, as first time playwright/ director Jamie Williams put it, there follow “high stakes, miscommunications, fears of ‘being caught’ and lots of energy on stage.” Nothing ever slows down in this premiere production.

And that’s part of the fun.

Williams has assembled an outstanding – and very agile! – cast for It’s Your Funeral.

Aidan DeSalaiz’s George is a man who will do anything, absolutely anything, for the woman he loves. DeSalaiz makes him lovable and determined, motivated by the best of intentions even when he’s in the midst of plotting frantic schemes doomed to go from “worse to worser.”

Helen, however, is the anchor in George’s life. Played by Zoë Sweet, Helen is rational in the face of all confusion. Her love for George is steadfast and patient. “I love you, you silly goose. There’s nothing we can’t do if we do it together.”

Derek Moran’s Rodney, the bookie, is both glib, and, oddly enough, rather ingenuous. He really, truly intends the best for his friend, George, even after he is reluctantly caught up in the Funeral Home fracas.

It’s just that he simply can’t help lying, conniving…and being rather gassy.

Brian Young’s Senator is irascible and suspicious. These are probably useful qualities in a politician unless said politician is being drugged, hit over the head or hilariously de-trousered.

As for Kate Gordon as Ima/ Berta/Hedwig, her performance is something of a tour-de-force. She made the audience believe that three quite separate (“not German!”) women really did inhabit her body: each of them utterly unique and, perhaps ever so slightly mad.

It’s Your Funeral is a fun premiere production, featuring a strong, energetic cast, well up to the acting challenges set by playwright Jamie Williams.

Audiences will enjoy both the wit and the romp. It’s Your Funeral is at UCP until June 30.