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‘The Sexton’ brings humor, pathos together

Local screenwriter scores another success with show by Playground 630

"The Sexton" continues its run at PFW Kettler Hall, March 9-12.

Jen Poiry Prough

Whatzup Features Writer

Published March 8, 2023

As a licensed funeral director, embalmer, and general manager of Harper’s Community Funeral Home in New Haven, David Rousculp understands the importance of human connection when it comes to death. He also knows how to find balance between pathos and humor when it comes to all things end-of-life. His parallel career as a playwright and producer has proven that multiple times over the past years. 

His second fully produced play, The Sexton, is a worthy follow-up to his comedy My Dead Clown, which won five Best of the Decade awards from

Sort of a cross between The Sixth Sense, Our Town, and the CBS sitcom Ghosts, The Sexton follows Wally, a shy, unassuming man who takes a lowly job as a cemetery caretaker (a sexton). Wally has experienced loss and addiction recently, and he also happens to have the ability to “see dead people.” He meets a group of five ghosts who linger in Section 13, unable to cross over due to unresolved trauma from their living days. He also meets a “tree-hugging” free spirit who visits her late husband’s grave every day.

Meanwhile, his evil and oversexed boss, who moonlights as a real estate developer, is cooking the books in a scheme to demolish the cemetery and build a super-box store and condo development.

Together, Wally and his new friends help each other find the strength to get come to terms with their pasts and move on.

The play is directed by Thom Hofrichter, who founded Playground 630 after retiring as the executive director of First Presbyterian Theater and who produced My Dead Clown at First Pres in 2018. The cast of 10 includes several longtime collaborators with Rousculp, and the cast and crew fully embrace the poignancy and relevance of the subject matter.

Chuck Fenwich, lead pastor at New Haven United Methodist Church, is perfectly cast as Wally, the bashful but kind-hearted sexton who understands the power of human connection and empathy. Sarah Hodgin doesn’t overplay the “hippie” aspects of her character and is a believably natural love interest for Wally.

The diverse cast of ghosts are specifically drawn as prototypes to represent a variety of obstacles keeping them from moving on. They tell Wally their stories through semi-monologues and Wally does what a good funeral director would do, he listens.

The first ghost is a female Elvis impersonator with childhood trauma who has convinced herself she really is Elvis. With an impeccable accent, singing voice, and Presleyan hip-waggle, Ruth Fearnow wears the famous white jumpsuit well and communicates largely through Presley lyrics.

As two spirits who can’t forgive family members, Rod Pasko is charming and vulnerable and Cortney White portrays quiet self-righteousness without being unlikable. Likewise, Kate Black exudes wealthy sophistication and priggishness but doesn’t overdo the negative aspects of her character’s foibles.

The most moving of the stories is told by Gunny, a Marine played by Scott McMeen. McMeen, a retired Army veteran, fully embodies this character’s brash but stoic sense of humor, but his emotional turn is breathtaking.

A newcomer to acting, Chevas Hefflinger chews up the scenery as the wicked Karen who flirts and charms when she needs to but shows her true nature to Wally. 

The Sexton also features Ben Roney as a lusty French-Canadian investor and former Indiana State Rep. Mitch Harper (whose family founded Harper’s Community Funeral Home).

In a city where musical theater rules, it’s refreshing to take a couple of hours to feed a different part of your brain. This quiet, funny, and poignant story will have you laughing and crying.

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