By Easton Mills
Key art by Matthew Eriksen of Good Brand Partners
Beverly’s North Shore Music Theatre hosted the staged reading of Nate Bertone’s (Letters from War) newest play on Tuesday, December 13th for a sold out house of North Shore locals.
The SeaView Nursing Home For The Newly Deceased centers on six freshly dead spirits and their experience inside an abandoned house in coastal New England. They are a mismatched set, a grouping that only has one thing in common: that they are all dead and confused about how or why they are in a nursing home. What follows will tickle your punny bone and make a gentle assault on your tear ducts.
While the show is an ensemble cast through and through, there is a singular character in the production who served as an anchor for this North Shore audience in particular. Bertone’s “Steven” is based on Steven Richard, husband to Karen Nascembeni, General Manager of North Shore Music Theatre. The two of them made national news in March of 2020 when they were both admitted to the Winchester Hospital for COVID. After a month of fighting for her life, Karen made it through, but Steven did not.
“He blew me a kiss, and that was the last time I saw him,” said Karen in an article for WBUR in 2020. “She blew me a kiss, and that’s the last time I saw her,” said Steven in Bertone’s play.
No one in the audience could hold it together.
SeaView at its core is wholesome. It tenderly treats its subject matter with stalwart grace and dark but necessary humor. Death is no easy subject to capture and it would be easy for a play such as this to steal the air from the room its heavy subject matter. Instead, the audience gets to revel in spontaneous dancing, perfectly timed jokes, and pizza parties alongside the more difficult themes. There’s also no shortage of strong language as, put cleverly by the playwright prior to the show’s opening, “if you just found out that you were dead you would probably drop an F-bomb too.”
This play is beautiful and uncomfortable because it deals directly with the effects of what the COVID pandemic has brought into such sharp focus: our collective grief. There’s no way to avoid this grief, we must move through it. Whether through dancing, or meditating, or singing, or laughing, or falling into a crying heap – everyone must move through it in their own way.
Bertone’s play gives us a safe space for us to cry it out. It’s joyful, it’s cathartic, it’s heartbreaking. It’s human.
Easton Mills (he/him) is a contemporary theatre critic fascinated by language, rhetoric, and weird puns nobody else notices. He is a dog dad to Marshall and an aspiring birder. Follow him on Twitter @EastonMWrites
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