This is a quirky little show that packs a lot into its 90 minutes. Given the title, it’s no surprise that becoming a widow is the theme, but the larger themes encompass forgiveness, acceptance, and grace. Bekah Brunstetter has written a play that starts quietly but eventually wraps its arms around you in a comforting hug. There is no happy ending, but the possibility of living a full, loving life is there.
Bekah Brunstetter has written a play that starts quietly but eventually wraps its arms around you in a comforting hug.
Melody (Ruthie Rado) is the 26-year-old wife to Craig (Nick Duckworth) who is unsure of herself, somewhat flighty, and rather self-centered. After meeting in Colorado, they fall in love and marry and then move to his hometown in New England, where she has no job, no friends, is intimidated by his widowed mother, and is flailing. But they do love each other very much. Then the unthinkable happens—Craig is killed in a plane crash on the way back from a business trip. Melody is devastated, as is her mother-in-law, although their reactions are poles apart. Melody is all emotion and Hope is all control. Somehow these two very different women must find a way to connect so they can survive.
One of the things this play teaches is that grief is all-encompassing, but how each person deals with it shows the content of their character. Emily Morrison plays Hope, the mother-in-law, who has lost her husband, and now her only child, and who also is a co-leader in a local widows club. She is straight-laced and believes that there is an order to things that must be followed. Melody has never faced loss before and is drowning in a sea of emotions that threaten her sanity. But they need each other (Melody’s parents are frantically trying to get to their daughter but a snowstorm in Colorado has them stranded); the question is how will they ever get through the funeral together.
For the first 35 minutes or so, Melody is just annoying. She is very young for her age, and frightened of the implications of the word “wife.” Rado does a remarkable job of portraying a young woman inducted into a club she has no concept of—she goes from wife to widow without having the luxury of time to grow up and find a way to cope with the uncertainties of life. We watch her grow into the grace needed to help her seemingly indestructible mother-in-law, who also learns to fall in love a little bit with her son’s wife. There is a moment when she levels an accusation at Hope that is breathtaking in its thoughtlessness and immaturity. As Hope, Morrison flashes back so rawly and honestly that it is shocking for them both.
There is a subplot involving Brad (Lansing O’Leary), who works as a legal assistant for her husband, and who befriends Melody. They are about the same age and same maturity level. But even as her world shatters, he keeps making it about him and what he feels and wants. She nearly makes a very bad decision, but something has sparked in her and she finds the maturity to own it and reject it. She does the “right” thing, something she learned from Hope.
Oddly enough, Craig becomes more human after his death. In her grief, Melody dreams of him and in their words together gains insight and some small measure of strength. She works her way through the overwhelming first days of grief and fear and is able to realize that he is dead and she is at a crossroads. It is enough that she is able to see Hope as a fellow suffering human being and to both lean on her and become someone Hope can lean on.
Rado, Duckworth, and Morrison give nuanced, strong performances. They work so well together that you find yourself mourning the what might have been had they been allowed to grow into a family.
Christopher Goodrich directs the play with a deft touch and some very creative staging (it’s a small space). Kudos to props master John Barbee for finding one of the ugliest lamps in creation which sparks a lovely moment between the quiet Craig and his Melody; a moment that quietly but glowingly allows his love for his younger wife to show. The lighting adds a depth and richness to the show; it is designed by Andrew Dodge.
This is a deceptively quiet play that says a lot in an hour and a half. While it isn’t flawless (it would have been nice for Brad to have some depth), it is heartfelt and expertly explores how explosive it is to navigate horrendous loss.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
Advisory: Some adult language.
“Be a Good Little Widow” runs through from July 12 – August 15, 2018. By Unexpected Stage Company, River Road Universalist Congregation Building, Bethesda, MD. For more information, please click here.