An uptight Norwegian accountant has been obsessed all his life with Edvard Munch's most famous painting. He's a painter, too, in spare moments, and his name is also Edvard, but his canvases are clichés — daisies, and fjords in the sun.
Edvard, played by Michael Oaks, has teamed up with two lowlifes to steal The Scream from the Oslo museum where it hangs, but his plan is not to sell it. As 3 Screams opens, he comes racing to his outdoor studio in the woods with the painting in his arms, hilarious with his own chutzpah. Somehow he has tricked and ditched his partners-in-crime, and now the work of art that has haunted him all his life will be his forever.
Or will it? Things start looking pretty dim for the masterpiece painted by Edvard’s namesake and imagined rival.
After the damage is done, the scene shifts in Act II to Edvard's home, where the second of the three monologues that comprise 3 Screams belongs to his wife. Tulla (Erin Ison) is a perky, tight-assed personification of deep denial with a smile, her hairdo and apron as finicky-perfect as her kitchen. Between sallies at whisking eggs and sifting flour with sugar for the cake of the day, Tulla chirps brightly to the motionless masculine legs sticking out from behind the couch, about her sons and her home-baked pastries and her barely tamped-down rage and her husband and …
Uh-oh, could those dead legs belong to Edvard? And what’s under the burlap that drapes the museum-masterpiece-sized rectangle propped against that cushion over there?
Then it's 20 years later and son Gunnar’s turn. Act III unfolds at the bridge near Oslo that is pictured in Munch’s painting, a place that Gunnar (Brandon Ryan) has visited (obsessively, yes) all his life. And his life might be summed up by the remark his father made in Act I to the iconic screamer in the painting he stole: “Your bad day never ends, does it?”
OK, is everybody in Norway that crazy about Munch's The Scream? Or maybe just crazy? Or is there a corner of mania within every artist and art-lover around the world?
Playwright Delaney told me that his idea for the play began with a newspaper article. “Somebody had stolen The Scream again,” he said. “It's been stolen multiple times by different people. Why would they do it?”
Delaney, who has moved back to Seattle permanently after living here "off and on” since he was 9, and who attended Cornish College of the Arts, summed up his play as being “about art theft. But it's also about a family, and about obsession, and about what it means to be an artist, and an artist's spouse, married to someone who can't talk about anything but himself. I hope you laugh.”
It takes more than a handful of themes to hold a series of monologues together, especially when they're delivered by lonesome characters riding into separate maniacal sunsets. But the characters all have the same famous hobbyhorse, at least, and all of them have a scream inside, too, roaring to get out. Maybe we all do.
In any event, as long as we don't mind the gaps and can let ourselves just fall into the action, Edvard's manic, hapless bravado will make us laugh in the way Delaney hopes. Gunnar's lines have the perfect bitter timing of a gifted standup comedian. And as Tulla, Erin Ison — to understate the delicious truth — is a wacky marvel.
The West Coast premier of Vincent Delaney's 3 Screams, directed by Mary Machala, is the first venture of a new Seattle theater company, Man Alone Productions. Said Delaney, “It takes courage to start a company from scratch and put something new out there. I hope it's a success. We need a professional company in this town that's dedicated to new plays."
A note for the production team: On opening night a misdirected spotlight cast a thick curtain of shine over the stolen painting's central image during the entire first act (from where I was sitting, anyway). Of course everyone knows what Munch's famous picture looks like. But watching the accountant banter with a glare on a board instead of with the iconic figure he likes to imagine is his ol' buddy, his screaming psychic nemesis, spoils the intended effect.
If you go: '3 Screams' runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through February 26 at Theatre Off Jackson, 409 Seventh Ave S. Tickets: Brown Paper Tickets (800-838-3006) $18 advance or $20 at the door; $15 for students and seniors. Further info: firstname.lastname@example.org, 253-548-7432.