Chad Hoeppner, Wrenn Schmidt, and Jill Eikenberry
in Be a Good Little Widow
(© Ben Arons)
Chad Hoeppner, Wrenn Schmidt, and Jill Eikenberry
in Be a Good Little Widow
(© Ben Arons)
Stephen Brackett's surehanded production of Bekah Brunstetter's Be a Good Little Widow, now at Ars Nova, couldn't be more highly polished; it's a shame that the script that doesn't measure up. Characterizations are mostly sitcom-thin, despite the occasional flash of quirky wit, and the show's tone and intent are problematic.

Wrenn Schmidt plays Melody, the whimsical, apparently ambitionless child-wife of the slightly older corporate lawyer Craig (Chad Hoeppner), who is going stir-crazy in the tidy little house that Craig bought for them back in his home town. (Daniel Zimmerman has managed to wedge a realistic Connecticyt living room into Ars Nova's shoebox space.)

Not only is there scant evidence of the romance that prompted their marriage, but a later flashback to Craig's proposal -- enlivened by Melody's insistence on a "do-over," since she feels she wasn't sufficiently effusive -- suggests that being "sick of roommates" was her prime motivation for joining him in wedlock.

So here Melody is in a wifely rut --- but, given the heavy-handed foreshadowing of the title, not for long, While waiting for the boom to fall, we have the pleasure of observing Schmidt's emotions play across her face like fickle weather, especially as Melody interacts awkwardly with her formidable mother-in-law, the ironically named Hope (Jiil Eikenberry, who does her best to give the role some needed substance).

A martinettish matron who has spent the past several decades properly mourning Craig's father, who succumbed to cancer, Hope buries her emotions by dispensing advice about lint-rollers (black is so susceptible) and Bundt cake pans. Of course, it's no surprise that Hope is destined to crack under the pressure of another cataclysmic loss.

Brunstetter appears more at home in Melody's world than in Hope's -- especially when the little widow-to-be is hanging out with a sweet, slackerish contemporary (played with offhand charisma by Jonny Orsini.) Their scenes have heat, and in not just the corporal sense; they suggest the far more engaging murk of real life.