Review: ‘Be a Good Little Widow’ at Unexpected Stage

(L to R) Emily Morrison as Hope and Ruthie Rado as Melody in Unexpected Stage Company’s production of Be a Good Little Widow, July 12 –August 5 in the Fireside Room of the River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation building. www.UnexpectedStage.org Photo credit: Rachel Ellis

It’s anybody’s guess what goes through a person’s mind in their final moments. Most of us are very familiar with what goes through the mind of a person who has lost someone. This grief, in all of its various emotional disguises, is the focus of playwright Bekah Brunstetter’s Be a Good Little Widow.

Directed by Christopher Goodrich, this one-act play at Unexpected Stage offers the audience a 90-minute roller coaster ride through mourning. The plot revolves around the relationship between a young widow and her mother-in-law who find themselves unwillingly bound together by sudden tragedy.

Ruthie Rado plays Melody, the young widow struggling with the death of her husband. She is convincingly irreverent and completely shattered in the way that a young person experiencing tragedy for the first time would be. She is completely committed to the performance. She weeps openly and trembles like an animal when someone embraces her.

The ever-talented Emily Morrison takes on the role of strict, judgmental mother-in-law Hope. Having been a widow herself, Hope is a character who believes in working through tragedy by following social mores. This causes an extreme amount of friction between her and the young Melody. The two actresses are perfectly complimentary. The moments in which they establish a connection, or recoil from each other in confusion, are major strengths for this production.

The deceased husband, Craig, is played by Nick Duckworth. The character has little of substance to contribute until close to the end, in which his appearance provides a gut-wrenching exploration of the nature of death- a scene which Duckworth absolutely nails.

(L to R) Ruthie Rado as Melody, Nick Duckworth as Craig, and Emily Morrison as Hope in Unexpected Stage Company’s production of Be a Good Little Widow, July 12 –August 5 in the Fireside Room of the River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation building. www.UnexpectedStage.org Photo credit: Rachel Ellis

Brad, a co-worker of Craig’s, is played by Lansing O’Leary. O’Leary is a good foil to Melody in a way that, purposefully, makes the audience question the nature of their feelings for one another. O’Leary’s delivery hits some of the better comic notes in this script.

Concerning the script itself, I found the dialogue to drag a bit prior to the event which acts as the catalyst for the rest of the plot. However, each scene provides a needed bit of character development. This should not reflect poorly on this production, but I will say this one was a slow starter for me.

Once it hits its stride though, Be a Good Little Widow is one of those plays that will knock the wind out of you with its emotional force. I found myself thinking about my own grief and the people I have lost over the years. I suspect it will have much the same impact on others who have dealt with the loss of a loved one.

(L to R) Emily Morrison as Hope and Ruthie Rado as Melody in Unexpected Stage Company’s production of Be a Good Little Widow, July 12 –August 5 in the Fireside Room of the River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation building. www.UnexpectedStage.org Photo credit: Rachel Ellis

All technical aspects of this production supported, rather than distracted from, the plot. Unexpected Stage works out of a small space in the River Road Unitarian Universalist Church and that space was utilized to it’s full functionality by each designer in this case.

Be a Good Little Widow is a complicated, difficult play which reveals the nature of people at their most vulnerable. Insightful and superbly acted, Unexpected Stage has produced another absolute triumph. As challenging as it may be to watch, it is also a cathartic experience which allows the audience to see themselves reflected in the challenges faced by the characters.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Be a Good Little Widow plays through August 5, 2018 at Unexpected Stage performing at River Road Unitarian Universalist Church – 6301 River Road, in Bethesda, MD. Tickets can be purchased online.