Take one of those warm, wry, comfortable comedies of the last century – Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park” is the stereotype – in which a cute, kooky and adorable young woman struggles toward the fulfillment of maturity.
Then, just as she and her handsome, promising young husband are sorting out their dreamy new lives together, splatter him over the landscape in a plane crash.
That’s the approach of Bekah Brunstetter in her new play, now at the Globe Theatre, Be a Good Little Widow. The clumsy title is a disservice to a slight but interesting piece referred to by the dramatist herself as a “dramedy.” (I’m assuming that’s jargon for a combination of comedy and drama.)
The scene is a starter bungalow in Connecticut where young Melody, transplanted from Colorado to make her new life with a budding corporate lawyer, spends time bouncing off the walls, working out to yoga videos and arranging her sweaters by color.
Which actually impresses hubby, obviously a proper young fellow. He arrives from the airport with time only for a perfunctory peck and a “what’s for diner” before the old cellphone buzzes with one last Friday night business call. The conversation waxes hot and cold as the evening lurches onward. Obviously, a couple of things: They really do love each other. And they’re in the earliest stages of trying to make a marriage work.
The play hops along in choppy chunks, later including flashback/dream scenes, that hang together surprisingly well. His mom, in an early white-glove inspection dinner visit, seems a standard uptight middle-aged horror. A casual intern lad from his office drops to pickup something and supplies some comedy relief and contrast. But that’s all the author allows herself. A world must be deduced therefrom.
So the plane crash splits the play like a logger’s axe, following by too few minutes his final call from the tarmac. Understandably, she’s a quivering mess when Mom arrives and begins stoically laying out the plans for the funeral. That’s where dram- takes over from –edy. It seems unlikely that these two will be able to agree on anything beyond the definition of “dead.”
The kid from the office is quite the opposite. He and Melody connect on every level, since her slight lead in common sense is dulled by grief. The vodka bottle comes out, the music goes on and he reads a clunky but touching poem to his late boss and mentor. Then…they dance. But it doesn’t go where it might. There still are ghosts.
As days pass before the funeral, everybody changes. The mom, herself a widow and now never to be a grandmother, softens and listens. The boy goes solemn and responsible. And Melody herself crash-tours an entire spectrum of emotions before leveling out about right. Reminds me of Beckett: “We can’t go on. We’ll go on.”
The writing’s pretty good: “Keep yourself together. Take your dress and press it.” That carries a lot of nuanced information. There are random rambles throughout but few wrong notes. The director, Hal Brooks, helps enormously. This is a splendidly paced, almost choreographed show, building conviction from subtle timing of movement, sound cues and Seth Reiser’s deferential lighting. Backed by such care, the setting down of a coffee cup can have significant meaning. This works best when the actors are involved, especially Zoe Winters as Melody.
Obviously with the full collaboration of her director, Winters employs a formidable physical vocabulary as punctuation and enhancement to enrich her natural likableness. A single example is irresistible: In an agony of conflicted frustration lashed onward by loneliness, she asks the intern to check her balky cable television feed, blurting out, with a graphic pelvic grind, “My box is broken!” Even a sailor might blush but that’s just our Melody in all her complexity.
As the lad from the office, Kelsey Kurz offers much the same appeal as Winters without the promise. Or the dance moves. Ben Graney handles the ghostly visits even better than his early corporal scenes as a born corporate warrior who wears his three-piece worsted and shiny leather shows like a skin.
The meat of the dram- goes to the ladies, Miss Winter as noted and Christine Estabrook, who plays the mother too tightly at first but later with a poignancy nearly unbearable. Her description of how a widow dances with a possible suitor pole-axes the audience. The author offers some hope for this shattered spirit but I’m skeptical.
Jason Simms offers a minimal timid-Ikea set and David Israel Reynoso’s costumes are all they should be, including mourning wear sadly inappropriate and acceptable.
I realize that these characters were created to tell this story. But may I offer the author, director and cast what I intend as a compliment? I would like to have seen how they all turned out without the plane crash.