Dancing with death

Open Mic, Open Casket

Review | by Doug Gallant

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Victoria Playhouse, Victoria
July 19, 2022

Truth truly can be stranger than fiction. And when you find yourself in a situation where that happens to be the case the temptation to write about it can be overwhelming.

So it was for Nova Scotia-based actress and playwright Lindsay Kyte when she learned that a Halifax funeral home was going to host an open mic night.

Yes, you read that correctly. An open mic night in a funeral home. 

I’m sure the thought of that happening left some people dumbfounded but likely left others with a serious case of the giggles. Kyte’s belief there was some rich material there to be mined for a show was amplified a few months later when the same funeral home hosted a Halloween event, inviting people to dress up in costume.

You can’t pass on an idea like that. Nor can you write a straight play about it. It screams for an off-the-wall musical comedy treatment and Kyte and her co-creators have given us that in Open Casket, Open Mic, now playing at the Victoria  Playhouse.

The cleverly crafted scenario she’s created here places you in a funeral home that’s about to close, operated by a funeral director who’s chosen to mark the occasion by hosting an open mic night.

You know you’re in for a wild ride when one of the first things you see is the funeral director loading an empty casket with six-packs and ice and changing into Western wear and cowboy boots. That’s mild in comparison to what follows.

The open mic is being held at the same time the funeral for freshly deceased centenarian Aunt Doonie is taking place in another room, a development that some family members of the deceased aren’t happy with. That is particularly true when loud, edgy music from the open mic session wafts across to the funeral, prompting one family member to express her outrage. 

That outrage doesn’t diminish when told the bargain basement funeral package she bought for Aunt Doonie doesn’t prevent the funeral home from hosting another function. And it doesn’t help that Robin, her organist, skipped the funeral to grab a spot at open mic night as she promotes her new image as Glamber Music Page.

Open mic nights attract all manner of characters. In Open Casket, Open Mic that includes a bizarre medium who conjures up two spirits, a much younger Aunt Doonie and the spirit of the funeral director’s late partner whose life came to an end in a most unusual but highly entertaining way I won’t disclose here.

Open mic night really becomes a party when Aunt Doonie ramps up the camp with stories about socializing with actress Betty White on the other side and belts out some tunes.

There’s no shortage of chuckles here as the lives and deaths of all involved play out and their relationships are explored.. 

There is also some great original music courtesy of singer-songwriter Terra Spencer (who is actually a real-life funeral director), Garry Williams and Lindsay Kyte.

The music is all over the map from power ballads and country gems to torch songs.

To make something this odd work requires a versatile cast and this show has one with Benton Hartley, Jacob Hemphill, Melissa MacKenzie and Kyte herself. Both Hemphill and Kyte have double roles.

Relax and enjoy.

Doug Gallant