Front to back: Presila Quinby, Gwen Overland and Adam Cuppy appear in Next Stage Repertory's production of Jeffrey Hatcher's comedy, 'Three Viewings.' - Photo by Jamie Lusch

Heartwarming and comically dark

Life and death are full of surprises, and Next Stage Repertory's production of playwright Jeffrey Hatcher's "Three Viewings" — a three-part play set in a funeral parlor — will offer no exceptions.

"It's full of quirky, dark humor," says Next Stage Artistic Director Doug Warner. "The three stories are driven by hysterical twists and turns, and they have a lot of heart."

Hatcher explores loss, love and money in his trio of witty narratives. Each premise engages.

In the first, "Tell-Tale," a respectably married funeral director, Emil (Adam Cuppy), comically pours his heart out in adoration of Tessie, a real estate agent who preys on the bereaved. In "The Thief of Tears," MacTeague (Presila Quinby) steals jewelry from the deceased resting in their coffins, and "Thirteen Things About Ed Carpolotti" shows us the newly widowed and hapless Virginia (Gwen Overland), whose husband has left her buried in debt.

"Hatcher takes audiences to the limit," Warner says. "He's an interesting guy because he can write a variety of styles. He can take off-the-wall situations and make great stories out of them."

"Three Viewings" will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 6-8, at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford. Tickets cost $12 and are available at the box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., Medford, www.craterian.org or by calling 541-779-3000.

Warner says he feels an obligation to the playwright when he's directing any particular play.

"I think we've been true to what Hatcher wants for the play while making it our own," he says. "As we dug into the script and explored characters' layers, we discovered that they are complex. They're not just one-dimensional and going for big laughs."

"Three Viewings" is a good fit with Next Stage Repertory's concept, Warner says. That is to offer professional theater in a professional venue to varied audiences for a low price.

The show is the first in Next Stage's second season that also will include David Ives' "All in the Timing," Tom Kempinski's "Duet for One" and Cindy Lou Johnson's "Brilliant Traces."

"I'm interested in developing strong male and female characters," Warner says. "They're funny, irreverent and colorful. When we hear a story, we want it to be epic and outside of our everyday lives — especially young people.

"Young people want fast entertainment, and they want it to be affordable. They like irreverence and dark twists; sentimentality is not on their list," he says. "I think we all enjoy dark humor. The proof is in some of the HBO and Showtime programs."

Warner says the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is his model for amazing theater.

"Audiences from all over the country return year after year to visit the festival," he says. "I think that Next Stage also will come into a life of its own in the future."

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