Aamira Welthy and Robbie Tann in BE A GOOD LITTLE WIDOW.
BOTTOM LINE: This play's combination of drama and comedy makes it both touching and funny.
In Be a Good Little Widow death becomes more than just a reason to grieve--it provides the main character Melody (Aamira Welthy) with a sudden push to grow up and reevaluate her life and relationship to those around her. Melody has recently moved to Connecticut with her husband Craig (Matt Bittner). As a new wife, Melody seems to use marriage as a reason to escape growing up. Rather than having to face getting a career of her own or finding direction, Melody spends her days thrift store shopping, doing yoga, and buying takeout dinners while her husband slaves away as a hardworking corporate attorney.
Playwright Bekah Brunstetter writes Melody’s dialogue with authentic inarticulateness. Even at 26, Melody still talks like a teenager stumbling through exclamations laced with far too many uses of the word “like.” Meanwhile, Melody’s mother-in-law Hope (Chris Holliday) is straight-laced and follows rules and traditions to a T. She frowns upon Melody’s lack of interest in cooking elaborate dinners for Craig and her lack of interest in creating a traditionally decorated home. Melody has little in means of a social life and instead her social interactions seem limited to her husband and her husband’s paralegal Brad (Robbie Tann), with whom Melody has obvious chemistry.
When Melody’s husband is suddenly killed in a plane crash she is faced with having to cope with this loss and etch out her own identity, independent of the crutch of her marriage. Melody’s emotional response to Craig’s death and her need for catharsis clashes from the get-go with Hope’s desire to follow all rituals and traditions associated with losing a loved one, focusing on cleanliness and décor rather than on any kind of emotional cleansing. The play’s strongest moments occur when Melody attempts to bond with Hope, trying to see the sense in her coldness. Brunsetter’s script tackles the themes of grief and death in a nuanced, authentic way, focusing on the smaller moments rather than overly dramatic tear-filled ones. While Melody is certainly a cutesy character, Brunsetter imbues the play with enough reality and darkness to balance out Melody’s overt sweetness. In the end, the focus of the play becomes Melody reflecting on and reevaluating the truth about her marriage.
The entire cast gives strong performances, ablely balancing the play's comedic and tragic moments. Aamira Welthy makes Melody’s naiveté and cuteness seem wholly authentic. Set designers George Hoffmann and Greg Kozatek create a set that reflects the polarity of tones in the play: a cold, hard marble-like floor, couch, and end table juxtaposed with a small stucco house-shaped structure in the corner which contains family photos, lamps, a rocking chair, and a fire place. When the light in this small house goes out it shows how cold Melody’s home has become without Craig. The production’s sole shortcoming seems to be the complete lack of chemistry between Matt Bittner and Aamira Welthy as a married couple, a lack of chemistry which makes the loss of Craig seem like less of a tragedy. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that Welthy has such palpable chemistry with Robbie Tann as Brad. This may be due partly to the fact that the original actor playing Craig was switched out, perhaps not allowing time for the actors to gain a needed comfort between one another. Overall, however, this production of Brunsetter’s work is charming and endearing, balancing drama and comedy.
(Be a Good Little Widow plays at The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, through September 22, 2013. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8PM and Sunday at 3PM.Tickets are $18 and are available at beagoodlittlewidow.com or by calling 1800.838.3006.)