Award-winning 'Arrangements' debuts


"Arrangements," the John Fritz play currently in production at the Colonial Players of Annapolis, is an enjoyable affair, a deftly written, genuinely funny comedy about life behind the scenes in the funeral industry.

Jessica Mitford meets Neil Simon, you might say.

When Rudy, the co-owner of a successful funeral home, has a fatal heart attack, his death causes his family and colleagues to reassess and rearrange their lives.

Orson, the deceased's partner, maneuvers to buy the business from Rudy's widow Madeline, a co-dependent who could teach Machiavelli a thing or two about manipulating people. Instead, Orson winds up hearing unexpected wedding bells.

Madeline, the ungrieving wife, copes with Rudy's loss better than she deals with her son Foster's passage to manhood. The son's dalliance with Connie, the industrious undertaker who'd once bedded Rudy, in fact, inspires some furious rewiring of Madeline's emotional circuitry.

In sum, we have an extended dysfunctional family that somehow manages -- despite great wailing and gnashing of teeth -- to stumble to stasis by the end of the play.

"Arrangements" garnered playwright John Fritz victory in Colonial Players' "Promising Playwright Contest" this year and these summer performances are given as part of the author's award. How nice that we can share in the prize, for Colonial has rolled out the red carpet in the form of four talented actors who make up the cast.

Anita Gutschik, one of the area's finest, is her usual energetic self as the assertive, oh-so-screwed-up Madeline, and Michael Dunlop imbues Orson with an engaging touch of whiny middle-aged angst.

Foster, as portrayed by Kenneth Sosnoski, is both a spoiled little rogue and a basically good guy in need of some personal growth, while Karen Eske brings Connie alive with a principled decency that makes her stand out in this cuckoo crowd, at least until the rest come around a bit.

"Arrangements" will be produced next season by Stage Two of Waukegan, Ill., and was recently recognized as one of the five best manuscripts of 1993 by The Script Review.

Colonial Players picked a real winner and gave it a first-class unveiling.

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