Grieving Process Requires Protocol at Open Book

By Daniel Skora

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Meghan VanArsdalen, Joshua R. Brown, and Diane Hill Photos by Krista Schafer Embank

Just how should a bereaved person act when their spouse has recently passed away and a once-prospering family unit of two has now been reduced to a single person? Are there rules or, for the most part, do people just wing it? Open Book Theatre is presenting “Be a Good Little Widow”, playwright Bekah Brunsteller’s excursion into the overwhelming loss and painful existence of a spouse who’s been left behind to go it alone.

Melody (Meghan VanArsdalen) and Craig (Joshua R. Brown) are newlyweds setting up shop in their new home. Craig is a corporate lawyer who does a considerable amount of out-of-state travel; Melody seems immature and a bit unsure of how this marriage thing is supposed to work. Craig’s mother Hope (Diane Hill) is one of those doting moms who finds fault in almost everything the new woman in her son’s life does for him.

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Meghan VanArsdalen and Diane Hill (background)

Because of the show’s title, it would not seem too great a spoiler to say that Craig dies early in the play, relegating Melody to the role of widow. But Melody is young and her marriage barely had time to mature into anything more meaningful than the kind of romantic infatuation that often characterizes the first few months of a couple’s living together. The funeral for her husband is the first she will ever be attending, let alone having to make arrangements for. Without the buffer that Craig once provided, her relationship with her mother-in-law has become more strained than ever. And if the transition from bride to widow couldn’t become any more difficult, a knock on the door brings unexpected condolences from Brad (Tim Pollack), a most congenial co-worker from Craig’s law firm.

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Tim Pollack as Brad

Brunsteller’s play meanders a bit before it finally arrives at the point where the storyline coalesces with the title. It devotes a great deal of its energy to Melody and Hope, highlighting the generational differences between the two women. The two men are relegated to supporting roles, Craig less so as he continues to have a presence even after his tragic demise, Brad more so when flowers and his overtures are discovered for what they really are. Ironically, Melody’s relationship with her husband improves considerably after his passing.

Despite its subject matter, “Widow” is a funny play, mainly because of Melody’s lapses into naiveté and Hope’s insistence on an irrational devotion to tradition. The cast is uniformly good, with VanArsdalen carrying the bulk of the weight. The Open Book’s production does as well as can be expected working with a a script that is both too much and too little.

It’s a simple set that director and set and sound designer Adriane Galea has provided. A half-dozen nondescript grey cubes which are moved about frequently provide seating, storage for props, and the illusion that you’re inside a furnished home. Lighting design is by Harley Miah. Danielle Gilbert serves as stage manager for the production. The show is produced by Krista Schafer Ewbank.

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Pollack, Brown, VanArsdalen, and Hill

The program says that “Be a Good Little Widow”, presented without intermission, should run approximately 90 minutes. It actually clocks in at somewhat less than that. The show runs through November 18th.  Tickets can be purchased online via credit card or by mailing a check to Open Book Theatre Company at 1621 West Road, Trenton MI 48183. Further information is available by phone at 1.734.288.7753, via email at openbooktheatrecompany@gmail.com, or at their website at www.openbooktc.com.


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