Joan Crawford, Medea and the Wicked Witch of the West combined have nothing on Hope, the monster-in-law who completely torpedoes "Be a Good Little Widow," the sincerely meant but structurally immature new play from Bekah Brunstetter that Collaboraction has brought to Chicago in Anthony Moseley's far-from-subtle production. As played with Machiavellian upper-class relish by Susan Fay — whose lips drip with passive-aggressive acidity with every nasty line — Hope's abuse of her young and needy daughter-in-law Melody (the nicely quirky Meghan Reardon) does not even miss a beat when the young lawyer Craig (Tommy Hicks), Melody's beloved husband and Hope's son, gets killed in a plane crash.
That particular plot development happens quite a way in to this 90-minute drama. But, given the title of the play, it's not exactly a huge surprise. In the first scene, I kept looking up at Craig and down at the program, wondering when and how he was about to croak.
With this mother, you can't blame him. Hope's relentless, snobby nastiness knows no bounds: pre-bereavement, post-bereavement. She goes after Melody's dress, manners and personal integrity (to name just a few of her endless progression of attacks) even as the poor young woman is in the throes of mourning. I suppose there are such people in the world, and it's clear that Brunstetter wants to paint a picture of a woman in a very deep kind of pain. I also suspect that a subtler treatment of this character might have had an ameliorative effect. But Monday night at the Flat Iron Building, you couldn't wait to get away from this toxic woman. Not to mention the rest of the flat, arch, slow-paced and indulgent show.
Hope is not the only thing that's tough to believe here. It's far from easy to track this play. In one perplexing sequence, we seem to see Melody and Hope planning Craig's funeral. But then Melody goes out to the crash site and actually sees bits of human bodies still laying around — apparently no one has cleared them up — which, as you can imagine, does not do her much good. It's just an impossible chronology, made worse by Brunstetter's wholly transparent invention of the device of a snowstorm, a really, really bad snowstorm, that keeps poor Melody's own loving parents from flying to Connecticut and their grieving daughter's side for several days. Days? It's just not credible.
Perchance you'll do better with this show than me, but when Melody starting seeing the ghost of her husband showing up in the window and waving sweetly, it was about all I could take to stay in my seat. There are a few honest moments when Brunstetter and Reardon combine to show us the very early moments of a relationship when your partner endlessly fascinates and entrances you, and it becomes easy to forget yourself. In those sections, there is some promise. But once the doorbell rings and mommy-in-law dearest enters, abandon all hope and flee for the stairs.
When: Through Oct. 23
Where: Flat Iron Arts Building, 1575 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Tickets: $15-$25 at 312-266-9633 or collaboraction.orgCopyright © 2015, RedEye