The fear of flying inspired playwright Bekah Brunstetter’s “Be A Good Little Widow,” but the topics that propel this strange and oddly uninvolving one-act dramedy are grief, loss and getting on with life.
“Widow” is in its West Coast premiere through June 9 at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre. Hal Brooks directs.
Somewhere in Connecticut, corporate attorney Craig (Ben Graney) and his recent bride Melody (Zoë Winters) have just put the finishing touches on their first small house. Melody is freaked out by Craig’s play-by-the-rules mother Hope (Christine Estabrook). Hope considers Melody a less-than-ideal wife choice (describing her as “a child”). Their first dinner together is awkward, tension-fraught and relatively unpleasant ... but oh, so familiar.
Ben travels a lot in his job, but communicates often by cell phone, always ending calls to Melody with “Love you. It’s Craig.”
This day he calls to tell her his flight to Chicago has been delayed, and that his paralegal Brad (Kelsey Kurz) will come by to get an urgent proposal off his laptop. His arrival inspires a lot of light, comic banter and there is unmistakable chemistry between the two.
The crash of Craig’s plane into a house on the return flight – which Melody will hear about from a TV newscaster – brings Hope (herself a widow) and the serious content of the play – the attempt of these two utterly dissimilar women to work together, “one step at a time,” to survive the tragedy and begin to go on with their lives.
It’s a worthy topic, hampered a bit by the writing. As (under)written, Melody is presented as a 25-year-old, self-centered blob of protoplasm with a quick tongue but no idea what she wants to do with her life. She’s three years out of college, but incensed when Craig suggests a career.
She bitches and moans about Hope’s “rules” (Hope says that’s how she got through her previous loss), but the freewheeling Melody is totally unable to cope. The question may be whether she will ever grow up.
Unfortunately, we’re given no entree into her psyche (why didn’t she get some inkling in school what she might want to do?) or her life (how has she lived since college without work?). Since we’re only allowed to witness to her rather peculiar behavior and apparent lack of regard for anyone else, it’s difficult to care what happens to her.
The comic parts of the play include sight gags and the kind of behavior seen on TV sitcoms – no surprise, since Brunstetter currently writes for the ABC Family series “Switched at Birth.” Though I failed to see the humor in this, much of the opening night audience howled with laughter.
Brunstetter’s juxtaposition of comedic lines with the seriousness of the topic doesn’t always work. Melody and Brad’s cringe-inducing “grief dance” wasn’t especially amusing, nor was Melody’s intent to jump into bed with somebody soon after the funeral.
Brunstetter does offer some good scenes, such as a flashback to Craig’s amusing marriage proposal and the most effective dramatic scene when the two widows, arm in arm for mutual support, leave for the funeral. A few ghost sequences with Craig are also telling.
Brooks does a fine and difficult directorial job, juggling the sitcom aspects with the seriousness of the topic without letting either get out of hand.
Kurz is almost wasted here, serving more as prop than character. Estabrook’s Hope may not be warm and fuzzy, but she’s at least capable of getting something done, and she does warm up a bit toward the end.
Winters has the most difficult job – mercurial and quick to anger, Melody’s childlike tendency to say whatever comes to mind without any filter makes her difficult to put up with for long – or care about.
The most successful character is Graney’s Craig. He has the least time onstage, but Craig is at least a likable, uncomplicated sort who only wants what most men want from their wives.
Jason Simms’ eclectic living room set looks like it was assembled from pieces picked up at garage sales and resale shops, as Melody tells us it is. David Israel Reynoso contributes fine costumes. Seth Reiser’s lighting effectively marks the flashbacks and ghost sequences, and Ryan Rumery keeps the music coming.
Despite its dismissive title, “Be A Good Little Widow” has an important topic which isn’t advanced by demonstrating how provocative you can look doing Downward Dog. A rewrite is in order.
“Be A Good Little Widow” plays through June 9 at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.
Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.
Tickets: (619) 234-5623 or HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.