Monday, September 16, 2013

'Be A Good Little Widow': Lovely Revival at the Wild Project

Cast Members of 'Be A Good Little Widow'
Photo by Eric Michael Pearson

There is more than a little “magical thinking” in the sweet and touching revival of Bekah Brunstetter’s Be A Good Little Widow, now on view at The Wild Project in the East Village.

“Magical thinking” is the term that Joan Didion famously employed in a book she wrote chronicling her life in the aftermath of the sudden death of her husband and fellow author, John Gregory Dunne.  She used it to describe a period of denial and self-delusion in which she says she fully expected her husband to “return and need his shoes.” 

Of course, Ms. Didion and her husband had been together close to 40 years when he died of a sudden heart attack.  Their ties were strong, whereas Melody (Aamira Welthy), the title character in Be A Good Little Widow, is only 26 years old when she loses her husband Craig (Matt Bittner) after a brief marriage. 

When the play opens, and before the tragedy occurs, Melody’s life is already at sixes and sevens.  She and Craig have set up housekeeping in his affluent home community of Greenwich, Connecticut, far from her down-to-earth family in Colorado.  Craig’s mother Hope (the excellent Chris Holliday) looks down her nose at Melody for being inadequately poised and polished, not even knowing how one properly serves a wedge of brie. 

Craig, a corporate lawyer, is an adorably dorkish sort of guy.  When he leaves phone messages for his wife, he always ends them by announcing his name, as if she might not know who it is calling her.  He’s the calm and steady sort; she’s a bit of a lost soul who has yet to find her place in the world. “Just tell me what to be, and I’ll be that,” she tells him out of desperation.

When the tragic incident occurs that leaves Melody alone, she truly does not know what to do about anything.  It is up to her brisk and efficient mother-in-law, herself a widow well-versed in such matters, to teach Melody how to handle things with outward composure.  (“Mourning is a private affair,” she instructs.)

The stiff and icy relationship between the two women gets to be too much for Melody, who craves love and support, and even permission to fall apart wildly and dramatically.  Thrown by it all, she drinks heavily and gets involved in a dangerously flirty relationship with Brad (Robbie Tann), Craig’s assistant at work.  While all this is going on, however, she also engages in a series of “magical thinking” conversations with Craig,  in the days leading up to the funeral.

The wonderful thing about Ms. Brunstetter’s writing is that the unfolding of the plot is as unpredictable as real life—at times funny, at times sad, at times sweetly romantic, and at times scary.  The playwright had done a remarkable job in shifting the tone throughout, especially as it involves the interplay between the two women, which contains many surprises as it evolves. 

The cast of four, smartly directed by Elena Araoz, is uniformly strong, with Ms. Holliday a standout as Hope, coming off as both chillingly unpleasant and warmly sympathetic during the course of the evening. 

The only downside is that this lovely production is scheduled to close at the end of this week.  Catch it while you can.

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