Somebody has to find the body.
Whether it's a murder, a suicide or an unfortunate solitary passing, someone has to discover the corpse and then live with that unfortunate moment — or not.
The lives of those innocent bystanders and the eerily close relationship with death they create are explored in Actors Guild of Lexington's season-opening production of Laura Wade's Breathing Corpses. It's a show that unfortunately has trouble coming to life.
The trouble starts in the first act, with Bethany Finley as a motel maid who finds a suicide victim when she goes into his room to clean it. This scene is a tall order for Finley, who already has filled one tall order this fall as the waif in Balagula Theatre's production of One Flea Spare. Here, she seems to lack direction in navigating this dialogue with another character who cannot respond.
The question that hangs over this scene is why this woman is staying in a room with a dead body instead of going to report it. Her lines tell us this has happened to her before, finding a body in a room, and she is afraid of being fired because she fumbled handling the previous case. But she seems to be messing up this one, too, and her portrayal of the scene's awkwardness is too awkward, featuring several pregnant pauses that elicit more frustration than tension.
Finley, and the play in general, fare better when they have other actors to play off of.
The show portrays three situations in which people find bodies and deal with the consequences, with set changes coming through scenic designer Tommy Gatton and director Eric Seale's use of a circular stage that shows the audience a third of the stage for each scene.
The best and most unsettling of the trio are Kate (Sarah Tackett) and Ben (Zack Hightower). Kate found a murder victim while walking Ben's dog and exhibits scant sympathy for the murder victim or the dog, but voluminous rage at how the discovery and subsequent police questioning and other details loused up her busy day.
We learn that verbally and physically abusive behavior is her modus operandi, and in Tackett and Hightower's bristling performances, we know this is not heading in a good direction.
In the other scenario, Lexington audiences are introduced to Liz Telling, an actress whose longer stage experience is as a professional oboist. As the wife of the owner of a self-storage complex who finds a murder victim in one of his units, Telling exhibits a natural chattiness and magnetism that carries her two scenes.
Directors at Actors Guild's new space in South Elkhorn Village need to watch out for staging scenes too low, as happened in the second scene. Jim (Eddie Salone) and Ray (Tanner Gray) sat on the floor for a key portion in the scene. But many people who were not in the first row were forced to look between other audience members' heads to see the actors.
Actors Guild has been on a long journey since a financial upheaval in 2009, making the staging of a 28th season — its first fall-to-spring season since 2008-09 — an accomplishment by itself. Seale, the theater's artistic director, has a clear vision to bring modern scripts to the stage, and Corpses is an interesting if not entirely successful offering. Three more familiar titles — Connor MacPherson's The Seafarer, Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House and Carson Kreitzer's The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer — plus a play to be named later round out the schedule.
Corpses shows a company with ambition and vision, but one that is stretched a bit thin. As this season progresses, one hopes that Actors Guild will find its rhythm and some room to breathe.