Miss Witherspoon refers to a theoretical character who might appear in an Agatha Christie mystery–an older woman who has accumulated crotchiness along with age.
Veronica, the protagonist of the play called Miss Witherspoon, now on view at Silver Spring Stage, is beyond crotchety. Already seriously depressed because of romantic rejections, she reaches the breaking point when Skylab, America’s first manned space station, hurtled back toward earth in July 1979.
Miss Witherspoon doesn’t lack imagination or insight.
Her improbable response, at least to the Skylab fiasco, is to commit suicide. But then, this is a play by Christopher Durang, master of dark comedies and parodies. Instead of suicide being a sin, as it is in many religions, in this particular comedy it becomes a quest for meaning after the fact—not for the survivors but the deceased.
That’s because Veronica is pushed by her Heavenly Hindu guide to return to earth in various reincarnations. Unfortunately, Veronica becomes a serial suicide committer, until something clicks in her—and she returns to save the world.
It’s a matter of taste, of course, but I found Miss Witherspoon a bit bizarre. Its strongest part may be the beginning, which nonetheless lacks the irreverent quirkiness of the rest.
In a phone conversation between Veronica and an unnamed friend (or family member?), the playwright offers a beautifully spot-on depiction of self-pitying despair. After that, Durang’s work, nominated for a Pulitzer Price in 2006, becomes a bit disconnected hodge-podge, sometimes funny and sometimes not so much.
Nancy Blum, as Veronica, is onstage just about every minute of the play. Fortunately, she has the kind of face that can reflect many different shades of orneriness and a voice that can be wonderfully whiny. She is probably her funniest as a baby in a number of reincarnations.
Pooja Chawla is charming but strong-willed as Maryamma, the protagonist’s Hindu spirit guide who keeps urging her to return to Earth.
Taylor Bono has fun with two widely contrasting mothers in Veronica’s past lives. Juliana Ejedoghaobi gets to play both serious and funny, as the teacher who encourages a young Ginny and as the Woman in a Hat, who claims to be Jesus in the guise of an African-American woman.
David Dieudonne wins the day in number of roles played—he is Father 1, Father 2, a sleazy man, dog owner, and a wise man. The latter strongly resembles Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, a reference that may be lost on some audience members.
Miss Witherspoon doesn’t lack imagination or insight. Certainly its vision of the afterlife is one most of us have never dreamed of. Veronica is a memorable protagonist. But the play is also somewhat preachy.
Against this backdrop, director Kevin O’Connell and the five actors do their best. O’Connell played up both the humor and the pathos.
Enthusiastic applause greeted the production at the end, but there was little laughter during.
Impressive special effects were by Maggie Modig, who also designed the set, with Steve Leshin serving as the master carpenter. These include a projectile that audience members sitting in a particular spot will see close by (but they are forewarned).
Also enhancing the production were the properties design by Devon Seybert, lighting design by Bill Strein, and sound design by Rich Frangiamore.
Seybert was also responsible for the costume design, including some impressively high heels and Gandalf outfit.
Advisory: Mature themes, including drug use, though handled mostly humorously. Language. Ages 16 and up.
Running Time: 90 minutes, without an intermission.
Miss Witherspoon continues through June 4, at Silver Spring Stage, Woodmoor Shopping Center, Silver Spring Stage, 10145 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD 20901. For tickets and information call (301) 593-6036 or click here.