Reviewed by Gray Palmer
Kirk Douglas Theatre
Through March 26
“How does a person stay remembered?” asks the narrator and principal character of Good Grief, Ngozi Anyanwu’s play now receiving a world-premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. That slight metaphysical oddity of phrasing, in a question we might hear from a child, begins to generate a world of questions and cross-questions.
Nkechi (playwright Anyanwu) is a young woman in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, who has been shocked by the death of a close friend. Very close: MJ (Wade Allain-Marcus) was in her 9th grade homeroom class when they met. He lived not far from her house. “Sometimes I miss you even when you’re here,” she remembers telling him, and, “The only time I don’t feel lonely is when I am talking to you.”
MJ’s car accident occurs at a time when Nkechi’s practical affairs are on pause. She has taken a year off from pre-med studies, a hitch in progress that alarms her parents. And now that she’s back home, everything seems to have stopped.
“Maya Angelou, where is your cage…? You have lost nothing,” says loud Papa (Dayo Ade) and he offers to buy her a car. “A Honda Accord is a good car!” he says, among other pronouncements that are received with nausea in the remote regions of his daughter’s grief.
While Nkechi’s slow work of mourning may be a dangerous passage, it is also overseen by protective kings, queens, gods, and ghosts. And it takes place below an empyrean where the star patterns are anticipating an addition (probably next to Orion, within the great Winter Circle).
The frozen present-time of the story is a suburban envelope of 2009, always at night, with “perfect kissing light.” But inwardly, time is not simple, as Nkechi’s fantasies compensate memory with funny, bombastic elaborations — which she then erases with terrible deflation.
So, how does a person stay remembered? In Anyanwu’s case, by collecting an inventory of intimacies. This is a great playwriting debut from a great talent.
Director Patricia McGregor, whose background includes dance and cabaret, also has a rare touch. She has perfectly cast the show and led every member of the ensemble to sensitive results, established fluid movement between units of the narrative, seen to the rhythm of the entire work, while the production’s design elements are integrated in a way that makes the most of TCG’s considerable resources.
The ensemble also features Carla Renata, Marcus Henderson, Mark Jude Sullivan, and Omozé Idehenre, all outstanding. Scenic design (notable for houses made from boxes of light) is by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz; costume (for people and gods) by Karen Perry; lighting (perfect) by Pablo Santiago; music (here a means of transportation between worlds and times) by Kathryn Bostic.
Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m. (no perfs March 14; through March 26. (213) 628-2772, http://centertheatregroup.org. Running time: one hour and 30 minutes without intermission.