Sunday, May 08, 2011

Be a Good Little Widow

Jill Eikenberry, Wrenn Schmidt (photo: Ben Arons)
There are no new stories. This fact challenges every playwright (and novelist and screenwriter). Take, for example, the following three scenarios: a newly married couple learns to make their day-to-day relationship work; a wife realizes she will never be able to please her mother-in-law; people who don't get along have to interact when a mutual loved one dies. Faced with any of these scenarios, one could easily guess how the rest of a play would unfold--that is, unless it were written by a top-notch playwright with an original imagination and deep empathy for human foibles. Bekah Brunstetter is such a playwright.

Brunstetter's play, Be a Good Little Widow, combines the three scenarios described above, yet it is surprising, multidimensional, and moving. The new wife and the judgmental mother-in-law--and the other two characters--are specific, living people. The play mixes humor and heartbreak, all richly earned. It is a deeply satisfying show.

Director Stephen Brackett supports Brunstetter's writing with clean, clear direction. The four-person cast shines. The two men, in smaller roles, are solid and believable. Jill Eikenberry is perfectly cast as the mother-in-law, and she gives a performance that is uncompromising yet compassionate, dignified yet nakedly vulnerable. As the not-so-good little widow Melody, Wrenn Schmidt combines staggering depth, truthfulness, and physicality. During the show's 90 or so minutes, there is not a molecule of her body that is not Melody.

Many of the people involved in this show--in particular, Brunstetter and Schmidt--are quite young. I am looking forward to their work over the next decades.


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