Be A Good Little Widow – theatre review

OPCT, now in its 44th season, opened its first play of 2014 with Bekah Brunstetter’s dark comedy/drama, “Be A Good Little Widow“.

Set in a home suburban Connecticut home, the story centers around Melody, an attractive newlywed, who has married Craig, a hard driving and much traveled corporate lawyer. They met when Melody was in college, and both agreed before the wedding that they would move to New England where Craig had been offered a prestigious position. Melody is 26 years old and has finished three years of college but has never held a job, and at this point is rather aimless. She acts very much like a teenager, in manner and language. She spends her days watching television, going to thrift stores, and keeping physically fit by exercising. She loves to eat Pop Tarts and cooks interesting things like pizza omelettes.

When Craig’s widowed mother, Hope, who lives nearby, comes to dinner in their new home, she engages in a series of depreciating remarks, making it obvious that she does not like Melody and thinks her son has married beneath his station in life. Much of the humor in this play occurs in the sparring between Hope and Melody.

Midway in Act I, things change abruptly after Craig dies in a plane crash and Melody, suddenly a widow, must face a future for which she is totally unprepared. An interesting visitor, who adds emotional complications, is Brad, an employee of Craig and one of his best friends. Melody’s immediate problem is making funeral arrangements; since she’s never been to one, she doesn’t have any idea how to go about it.

Hope has been widowed for a long period of time. If fact, she is a member of a local Widows League and, with a controlling and icy calm, proceeds to provide the grief-stricken Melody with instructions on how to be a good little widow.

Act ll continues with funeral preparations and a gradual bonding of Hope and Melody, as they try to cope with the grief of the unexpected death of a loved one. This is one of the strongest scenes of the play. At some time in our lives, we can all expect to be confronted with death and grief, but each of us will handle it in different ways, as do Melody and Hope.

The demanding role of Melody is performed by Kristen Walsh, whom we last saw on stage at The 5 & Dime’s highly acclaimed production of “The Pittmen Painters.” Ms. Walsh also has an ongoing role as Jen in the web series “The Chronicles of Alexander Hawthorne.” Walsh skillfully uses words to mask fears, shield panic, hide feelings, and deflect attention.

Hope, as played by Sara Green, remains at first in control but later, this woman who has lost both a husband and a son, openly and movingly cries. Ms. Green, who has been in a number of OPCT’s shows over the year, usually directs or appears on-stage in comedies. In her first really dramatic role, she imparts a depth of detail that helps tether the play to a world filled with the pain of unanticipated loss.

Frank Ritch, who plays Craig, says in his program biography that this is his first major role in community theatre. He is excellent and his past experience in films and commercials shows. He is also a “Chronicles of Alexander Hawthorne” performer.

Gonzalo Mejia is Brad, Craig’s worshipful colleague. We last saw Mr. Mejia in his Jacksonville debut in The 5 & Dime’s “Elegies for Angels, Punks, and Raging Queens.” Originally from Lima, Peru, he has an impressive resume of musicals from the Pensacola Florida Little Theatre.

This play included parts of eleven songs, mostly as background. Almost all of the songs were written and performed by Middleburg resident Dalton Cyr, a young teenager whose reputation as an award-winning singer, songwriter, musician, and recording artist is growing nationally in leaps and bounds.

The set designed by Kurt McCall, included a white sofa and other comfortable furnishings, along with touches such as a figural lamp and metallic sculptures. While mother-in-law Hope was quite critical, we found it unique and pleasing to look at .

The lighting design, by Lee Henderson, was executed behind the light board by Gloria Pepe, whom we know from her many years in the same capacity at Theatre Jacksonville. Good to see her back in theatre.

Susan Carbaca, is one of the staunch supporters of OPTC, who has for many years performed throughout North Florida at various theatres. A fine actress on the local stages, this is her sixth directing endeavor here, and probably the most demanding given the subject matter. Plays set the wheels of thought spinning in our brains, and Director Carcaba certainly has done that with “Widow.” Brian Vitter was Assistant Director and is the Stage Manager for the production which will run through February 23. Call (904) 276-2599 or see opct.org for reservations. The theatre is at 2900 Moody Road in Orange Park. Please note this show contains adult language.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.
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