San Diego Theater Review: BE A GOOD LITTLE WIDOW (Old Globe)

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by John Todd on May 20, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

HOME IS WHERE THE HEARTACHE IS

Moments before the arrival of Hope (a domineering mother-in-law, not the aspiration), newly-married Melody jests with her handsome corporate attorney husband, Craig: “Don’t talk about your mother and then try to kiss me.” Although John Todd's Stage and Cinema review of "Be a Good Little Widow" Old Globe San Diegofunny dialogue such as this may seem more sitcom than theatrical in Bekah Brunstetter’s Be a Good Little Widow, it feels fresh and points up the disconnect in their young marriage. When the playwright turns this deceptively simplistic dialogue towards the unexpected in this west coast premiere, the result is exhilarating.

Despite their obvious affection for each other Craig doesn’t listen to his wife as Hope walks into their new Connecticut house furnished by Melody in (set designer Jason Sims’) garishly-colored thrift store Danish Modern. She wastes no time in telling her son that an old girlfriend of his is back on the market. A wonderfully austere Christine Estabrook had the Old Globe audience gasping and laughing at Hope’s audacity. As we will find in this comedy that tailspins into a drama, there’s more to Hope than disapproval of the marriage and the tasteless decor.

John Todd's Stage and Cinema review of "Be a Good Little Widow" Old Globe San DiegoMelody is going out of her mind with boredom during Craig’s business-related absences. She is a cacophony of brash naiveté and self-indulgence: When Craig (Ben Graney) is later out of town, she is drawn to his paralegal Brad (Kelsey Kurz), who arrives to retrieve some info off of his laptop; she is stressed by her feeble efforts to please her mother-in-law; she is addicted to pop tarts; and she fills her lonely hours by color-categorizing her sweaters, lamenting, “That made me happy. And that’s sad.” There is almost no sub-text as everything she feels or questions is blurted out. She’s both sweetly and annoyingly off the spectrum. As Melody, Zoë Winter’s performance is superb, capturing the inconsistencies, fears, and joyous mania of a troubled woman fighting to bring her life into balance.

John Todd's Stage and Cinema review of "Be a Good Little Widow" Old Globe San DiegoWhen Craig is killed in a plane crash, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law are thrown into a cauldron of grief management and funeral planning. Hope prescribes a rigid decorum for widowhood. Melody will have none of it. This is Melody’s first funeral ever and by God she’s going to write her own speech. “Eulogy,” corrects Hope who has already hired a minister for that purpose. But Melody forges ahead, pen hovering over paper as she struggles to describe her husband Craig. What kind of person was he? After several painfully funny starts she sets the pen down intoning: “What kind of a person is anyone?”

John Todd's Stage and Cinema review of "Be a Good Little Widow" Old Globe San DiegoThis is the moment she begins to shed her naiveté, realizing that she no more knows the man she was briefly married to than herself. What follows is an arduous and wildly comic crawl through a mire of grief. Hal Brooks directs seamlessly, unafraid to employ stretches of wordless calm when time is needed to reflect. Indeed, grief is rarely such a delight.

Only the play’s end feels a misstep. Hope warms to Melody to such a degree they are on the verge of becoming friends. Hope’s change of attitude – inspired by a dream (a kind of deus ex machina) in which she lets go of Craig – belies her controlling nature. Still, in her final advice, Hope instructs Melody on how she should honor Craig and deal with his future replacement: to wit, how to dance with him and how to invite him to lunch. It’s played as a loving gesture, but really she’s continuing to lay down the rules for being a good little widow. In this case, hope (both the mother-in-law and the aspiration) is a bitter irony.

John Todd's Stage and Cinema review of "Be a Good Little Widow" Old Globe San Diego

photos by Ed Krieger

Be a Good Little Widow
Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
Old Globe in San Diego
scheduled to end on June 9, 2013
for tickets, call (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623] or visit http://www.TheOldGlobe.org

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