When most people recite their marriage vows, they secretly hope the “for poorer,” “in sickness,” and “til death” parts won’t apply. But death comes quickly to the newlyweds in Bekah Brunstetter’s Be a Good Little Widow at Ars Nova. (Please, it’s hardly a spoiler if it’s right there in the title.) No sooner have young couple Craig (Chad Hoeppner) and Melody (Wrenn Schmidt) unpacked the last box in their new Connecticut home than Craig goes the way of all flesh and Melody goes a little crazy.
As in her previous script, Oohrah!—which played at the Atlantic in 2009—Brunstetter trains her focus on a young woman, treating that character with a queasy mix of sympathy and derision. Even as she seems to want the audience to feel compassion for Melody, Brunstetter has her ritually humiliate herself in front of Craig’s mother, Hope (Jill Eikenberry in dry-ice mode, so cold it hurts) and saddles her with mounds of facetious laugh lines. Some of Brunstetter’s dialogue is beautifully observed, but much is self-consciously quirky and out of character, as when, in the play’s first scene, Melody tells her husband, “Sometimes I kiss you and your mouth is all small and tight, and it’s kind of like I’m trying to make out with a butthole.”
The arc of the play, under Stephen Brackett’s direction, happens somewhat too predictably and too fast. Melody slides off the rails and then back on; she and Hope achieve détente via a bowl of Skittles. The play also seems to bear some marks of earlier drafts, such as repeated references to a Widow’s League, which must, at one time, have been more prominent. And yet, by the play’s end, tears glistened in the eyes of many audience members and lumps filled throats. “Mourning is a private affair,” scolds Hope. But the crowd, like Melody, strongly disagreed.