Be a Good Little Widow
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
April 29, 2011
In Bekah Brunstetter’s “sad comedy” Be a Good Little Widow, a 25-year-old wife is faced with the unthinkable: after the death of her slightly older husband, she must deal with his emotionally withdrawn mother.
Of course, mother Hope (Jill Eikenberry) isn’t as withdrawn as Melody (Wrenn Schmidt) thinks; she just has her own way grieving. Their relationship is the crux of Brunstetter’s affecting new play, directed with sensitivity by Stephen Brackett. Hope, a proper Connecticut WASP, is unafraid to make known that she didn’t think her corporate attorney son Craig (Chad Hoeppner) belonged with the flighty Melody. His death in a small plane crash, and how the women navigate their grief, further complicates things. So too does Melody’s burgeoning friendship with Brad (Jonny Orsini), one of Craig’s co-workers.
What’s constantly exciting about Brunstetter’s plays is how real they are. Her achingly human characters talk as real people do: sometimes clumsily, sometimes awkwardly, sometimes beautifully eloquent. In Widow, her most fully-rounded play to date, her words are alternately hilarious and unbearably sad. The only thing I could have done without were the handful of poop jokes. She’s better than that.
The four-member cast handles the material with quiet grace. Schmidt is quite affecting as the gawky young Melody, now all alone for the first time in her life. Hoeppner and Orsini have a number of delightful moments; Orsini, in particular, hilariously delivers an awkward, pathetic little poem Brad has written for Craig’s funeral. Eikenberry, with a death stare that could make the knees of even the most fearless people knock, is marvelous as she melts over the course of the play from stoic to completely grief-stricken.
Daniel Zimmerman’s top-notch set expertly captures the coldness of a suburban home that, no matter how funky and colorful the pillows and tchotchkes are, is still bland. Jessica Pabst’s costumes, Burke Brown’s lighting, and Bart Fasbender’s sound design are also first rate.
Nestled away at Ars Nova on 54th Street and 10th Avenue, Be a Good Little Widow is far away from the hustle and bustle of the theater district, but that doesn’t mean it should go by unnoticed. It is a lovely work from everyone involved.