Years ago, playwright Henry Murray was driving through Santa Monica Canyon near his home and saw a curious sight—“a fully mature woman on the curb near a mailbox. She was wearing a housedress and had scabs on her legs,” Murray recalls. “She reeked of alcohol. I walked her home and discovered she wasn’t alone—she had a husband who was wheelchair-bound. She said to him, ‘Honey! Guess what? I fell down and I’m not even drunk!’ What greater gift can a playwright be given than a line like that?”
Three Views of the Same Object, which runs at Next Act Theatre April 3–27—and has had productions at Bloomington Playwrights Project in Indiana and Rogue Machine Theatre in Los Angeles—is the full-length riff on that story.
At the center of Three Views are Jesse and Poppy, an older married couple who banter about their lives, their daughter and their suicide pact. The play depicts three versions of events. In one scenario an alcoholic Jesse falls and breaks her hip and is ready to die while her husband is not; in another, the happy couple discusses dying together in their car; in the third scenario, Poppy kills himself before Jesse is ready. (The play can operate with multiple actors playing versions of Jesse and Poppy or with single actors morphing in and out of the roles.)
Murray admits that working with older actors has its challenges (line accuracy, forgotten blocking), but adds, “There’s a huge richness working with people who have lived their life in the theatre. You forgive them any slip-up. And since they are playing elderly people, it’s very natural.”
Despite the play’s heavy themes—or perhaps because of them—the characters of Jesse and Poppy are vibrant spark plugs who trade such zingers as “Between us we have one properly functioning bladder.”
“I hope the show can incite conversation about how we die in America,” Murray says. “It’s a hard topic to talk about, and I want people to think about the reality of their own ending—especially if they don’t have money. If people thought in-depth about end-of-life issues, then perhaps, as a country, we might be more accepting of assisted suicide and the right to self-determination.
“Above all else, it’s a love story,” Murray concludes. “It’s about two people who love life and each other, however twisted that expression of love becomes after 40 years of marriage.”