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The lady’s name is not Miss Witherspoon. That’s just what the spirit guides have taken to calling her in the bardo, the Buddhist limbo where souls pause on their transmigratory flight from one incarnation to the next. Miss Witherspoon, a recent suicide, isn’t a Buddhist, though she doesn’t appear to be much of a Christian either, and obdurately refuses to see any purpose in reincarnating herself to this vale of sorrow, a refusal that sends the cosmic machinery, in Chris Durang’s slyly bittersweet new entertainment, into a string of hiccuppy special effects. Sometimes the machinery gets Miss W. reincarnated, sometimes she grinds it to a halt. Remembering her past (as Buddhists say babies in their first few weeks do), she usually manages to suicide her way out again, thus finding herself in a worse new life each time, till she finally gets with the cosmic program and starts accentuating the positive for a change.
Though much of its material echoes life in previous Durang forays into topics such as family, church, child care, and the media, Miss Witherspoon plays refreshing variations on its earlier lives; it’s like a cool new drink with a soothingly familiar flavor—reincarnation condensed milk, you might say. If TV had a spiritual dimension, Durang could probably parlay the work into a sitcom, with the heroine confronting a new life each week. Certainly Kristine Nielsen, who plays the obdurate anti-transmigrator, would be game for almost any life Durang could dream up. Here she’s equally droll—and equally touching—as a resentful baby, a contented dog, a tormented teen, or the high-strung post-Skylab suicide who brings all this hell on herself. Emily Mann’s production, not quite airborne enough for the play’s loopy metaphysics, nonetheless gives her able companionship: Lynda Gravátt, Jeremy Shamos,
Colleen Werthmann, and the imperturbably cheery Mahira Kakkar.