I heard recently about how a 95-year-old woman died. She had lived a full, care-giving life, and her body slowly gave out. Three weeks before she passed away, she said she wouldn’t eat or drink anymore: she was ready to go to Heaven. She was such a giver that during her final days she refused pain medication; she wanted her mind clear for well-wishers. Then one day she asked for the medicine and announced, “I’ll be in Heaven soon.” How did she know? Because she’d been there already, she said. She saw everyone, and “It was truly wonderful.” She came back because it wasn’t her time. Early the next morning, she died in her sleep.
Along with being a most graceful way to go, she prepared everyone for her passing — gave them time for the stages of grieving and gradually accepting a world without her. But still, at the service, a blown-up portrait of her lit the room and even the most heartfelt resolutions couldn’t assuage the finality: she was gone.
Reach “a certain age” and funerals become a regular fact of life. But even with advance notice, you can’t rehearse your reaction. Emotions scramble in the moment. All of them.
In Bekah Brunstetter’s Be a Good Little Widow, Melody’s 26, three years out of college. She recently married Craig, it would seem, on a whim. If she were an actor, Melody would be egregiously miscast. She’s unprepared for love, marriage, or a career. She’s never known anything resembling a major trauma or life-changing experience. Plus, she grew up with the internet: texting and tweeting have kept her pretty much boundary-free. Melody’s been cast in a tragedy and never took Acting 1A. The title tells us so.
There are times in Be a Good Little Widow when notions of Playwrighting 1A come to mind. Brunstetter has created a fascinating character, but the other three are little more than ciphers, and the play sprints to a sit-commy resolution.
Craig, the absent husband, flies around the country and dies in a plane crash. He’s apparently quite competent at his work (can afford a small home in Connecticut) and, unlike Melody, regulated in his life. After the crash, he spends more time with her than before, and they get acquainted, it would seem, for the first time.
We learn about Craig from Brad, who works for him and fills in some details. Brad’s more open with his feelings, including sudden bursts of amour for Melody. They seem more temperamentally attuned, in fact. And Melody almost reciprocates.
Hope is Craig’s by-the-book mother. A career-widow, she withholds feelings in the name of decorum — you can almost see sacks of old energy trailing behind her. As rigid as Melody is spacey, Hope knows how to act, she thinks. Both names are ironic. And it’s obvious the twain shall grow together, accept/abolish differences, and learn to grieve — in the script if not in believability, since it all must happen in a short period of time.
Melody’s something new (or at least new to me). They say 40 is the new 30, or some such? Melody’s behavior suggests that 26 is the new 6. She flits about like a sand flea, never in one place, or one state of mind, for long. She doesn’t have mood-swings, she has mood-jolts. If she had her druthers, she’d eat Skittles, fake a yoga exercise, and drift along to the sounds of the Dixie Chicks, K-Ci & JoJo, and the immortal Sam Cooke.
She isn’t just unsocialized, she barely has an outer life. She has grown up connected to, and pampered by, technology. Watching her split-second attention span resembles watching people scrolling the screens of their iPhones: thumb a picture, watch, snap-judge, move on. Craig’s sudden death forces Melody to face a subject she can’t thumb away.
Zoë Winters makes Melody always watchable. A series of random impulses, Winters doesn’t do anything conventionally, even sit on the sofa. On opening night, some of her moves felt premeditated. At the same time, she showed the courage to make one whopping choice after another — and that her spontaneity would become fluid soon.
Melody’s such an interesting character — and scary: imagine her driving a car near you! — she tips the scales. The other three are little more than satellites to Melody’s sun. As written, Hope could be the Monster That Repressed New England. Christine Estabrook smartly tones down Hope’s more draconian leanings and fills in the sketch where possible. As does Ben Graney with Craig, though it’s never clear what he and Melody initially saw in each other. Kelsey Kurz has some fun, goofy moments as Brad (who, in other contexts, would be a play’s space case).
Director Hal Brooks moves the 90-minute, intermissionless piece well. And Jason Simms’s appropriate set is a mismatched assemblage from the Newlywed Collection: something old, something new, something borrowed, and some things, um, aqua. ■
Be a Good Little Widow, by Bekah Brunstetter
Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park
Directed by Hal Brooks; cast: Christine Estabrook, Ben Graney, Kelsey Kurz, Zoë Winters; scenic design, Jason Simms; costumes, David Israel Reynoso; lighting, Seth Reiser; sound, Ryan Rumery
Playing through June 9; Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Matinee Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 619-234-5623