Good grief

Melody (Zorba Hazel) and Hope (Barbara Biondo) share an awkward moment.

Melody (Zorba Hazel) and Hope (Barbara Biondo) share an awkward moment.

Photo/courtesy Restless Artists Theatre

Restless Artists Theatre, 295 20th St., Sparks, presents Be a Good Little Widow, written by Bekah Brunstetter, and directed by David Zybert, on Nov. 8, 9, 19, 15, 16, and 17 at 7:30 p.m., and Nov. 11 and 18 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 general, $12 seniors/military and $8 students. For more information, visit or call 525-3074.
Rated 3.0

There’s a throw pillow on the set of Be a Good Little Widow that makes a perfect metaphor for the characters and premise. It’s gold and covered in sequins, gaudy and awkward in a home full of mismatched hand-me-downs, trying too hard to gussy up something that isn’t quite right—just like the young woman sitting on the couch in the opening scene of Bekah Brunstetter’s dramedy about loss, now showing at Restless Artists Theatre in Sparks.

The young woman is Melody, played by Zorba Hazel, whose green hair perfectly mirrors her own greenness, not just as an acting newbie but also in her role as a newlywed who hasn’t quite figured out how to be a wife yet, trying to fit into her new Connecticut community after relocating from Colorado. Twenty-something Melody picked out the gaudy pillow as part of an effort to spruce up the new home she shares with her corporate lawyer husband, Craig (Brandon Rainer), who spends most days in other parts of the world, or on his phone on the rare occasions he’s home.

Craig’s mother, Hope (Barbara Biondo), pops in regularly, to coddle her son and criticize Melody, providing another opportunity for the young woman to struggle hopelessly to fit in and prove she’s a good fit for her buttoned-down, high-powered husband.

But before Melody hits her stride or starts to feel comfortable in this new home, Craig dies in a plane crash, ripping apart the life Melody just began, leaving her wondering what she’s supposed to do now. Fortunately—or unfortunately—Hope, a widow herself, steps in to show the perpetually screwed-up Melody how it’s done.

Awkwardness pervades the production, which director Dave Zybert’s program notes indicate is purposeful, showcasing Melody’s own inadequacy in her marriage, in her dealings with Hope or in her inappropriate flirtations with Craig’s coworker, Brad (Robert Helmers). It’s so awkward, in fact, that I squirmed a bit in my seat.

The story’s awkwardness can really only be handled deftly by confident, experienced actors in order to showcase the character dynamics—yet this production’s relatively inexperienced cast doesn’t quite have the chops. Melody and Craig seem more like kids playing house than lovestruck newlyweds. And Melody’s acute grief comes off as acted, but not always felt.

The show contains quite a few laughs, usually at Biondo, whose performance as the complicated Hope was the strongest of the bunch. But her clichéd mother-in-law role is too harsh, her humanity too unreachable, so I couldn’t quite root for her.

The relationship between Melody and her mother-in-law is billed as the dominant relationship in the story, but the real story here, to me, is what Melody comes to realize about her relationship with Craig—all that it was, and all that it wasn’t—and how that realization helps her to finally grow up.

That’s when the awkwardness, tension and irritation melted away for me. When the prospect of losing what these women have lost hit me dead on and felt real, I cried real tears. And because it will make you count all your blessings and hug your loved ones more tightly, it’s worth giving it a shot.