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He Says: Good Grief Slides Into Place at the Vineyard

He Says: Good Grief Slides Into Place at the Vineyard

There’s a surprising depth to what first appeared as a fairly two-dimensional stage design by Jason Ardizzone-West (What Did You Expect?), but with a blinding white light shining into the dark, the geometrical sliding walls of memory and time refocus our mind’s eye to lean in and “just listen“. N or Nkechi, played with clarity and wisdom by the playwright herself, Ngozi Anyanwu (“Limitless“), is told by her hovering support system to get the story right, and not skip the best parts. She tries, wholeheartedly, to get the memories correct and in order, but as with all memories, they flit around back and forth from what we would like to remember and what actually happened back then. As the lead character, the playwright does the piece justice, with all her heart and soul, although one has to wonder what less connected actress could do with the lyrical beauty of the words and the collisions of time and space. The troubling parts fade and hide behind sliding doors of grey perforated metal, yet hang just out of reach teasing us to try to pull forward and understand. From echos inside her soul, she submits. With a muddled impulse, she explores, but bypasses the accidental moment in favor of remembering the man who, by all accounts, couldn’t be more gorgeous. And it’s true, he is, and with that knowledge and set-up, the story, as written by Anyanwu, pays strong tribute to the pain that exists when someone has simply gone away, giving her a space to look back, curl up, become immobile, and mourn, and in the end, from a higher level of understanding, to experience Good Grief and pathway through difficult sorrow.

GoodGrief0135 Ngozi Anyanwu and Ian Quinlan Photo by Carol Rosegg
Ngozi Anyanwu, Ian Quinlan. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

As directed with a swiftness and secure spirit by Awoye Timpo (Anyanwu/ATC’s The Homecoming Queen), the boy in question, MJ, played by the devilishly handsome Ian Quinlan (“The Long Road Home“), rises out of her memory formulating into some sort of greek mythological god, shining in the night sky like a constellation. It’s hard to know what separates the myth from the man, but the connection and engagement ring true and touching. Perfectly portrayed, he’s the young man who walks down the neighborhood road with a sweet swagger of kind engagement and rebellious sparkle. He has the heart of an artist, making it hard not to like and almost impossible not to be swept up by the young man, given his dreamy lost boy’s stare and James Dean grin. But then in a flash, courtesy of lighting by Oona Curley (NLTP’s Breeders) and beautifully coordinated sound by Daniel Kluger (PH’s I Was Most Alive With You), the fracture is emblazoned across the stage, solidified by the nervousness of the next door neighbor delivering news she’d rather not, played with convincing concern by Lisa Ramirez (Berkeley Rep’s Angels in America), he vanishes from her life.

GoodGrief0011 Ngozi Anyanwu and Nnamdi Asomugha Photo by Carol Rosegg (1)
Ngozi Anyanwu, Nnamdi Asomugha. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

N is struck down, knocked from up above to a place of bereavement and confused sadness. The piece is high concept at moments, but also etched with authentic interactions in the quick entrances and exits of all, and even with the help and guidance of her compassionate Bro, played strongly by the very appealing Nnamdi Asomugha (Amazon’s “Crown Heights“), she struggles to find happiness and get back a grove in her glide. Patrice Johnson Chevannes (Broadway’s Racing Demon) plays her dynamic and complex mother, NeNe, and backed up by a deliciously delivered Papa, portrayed with precision and snap by Oberon K.A. Adjepong (TFANA’s A Winter’s Tale), they both try in their separate ways to understand the ambivalence and lethargy of the clearly devastated and heart-broken. They engage and harass, unsure what to do to bring her up into the stars once again. Costumed wisely and creatively by Andy Jean (Ars Nova’s Rags Parkland…), their coupledom is culturally defined and emotionally authentic, but it is in their worried glances that the true concern resonates, and the helplessness resides.

GoodGrief0495 Oberon K.A. Adjepong and Patrice Johnson Chevannes Photo by Carol Rosegg
Oberon K.A. Adjepong, Patrice Johnson Chevannes. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

The storyline fluctuates from before to beyond, with wonderfully pure references to the birthing of love to the complications of desire, ending with destruction of purpose. It doesn’t always work perfectly, but the attempt is compelling and esthetically engaging. JD, the handsome and appealing boy from up the street, relaying a great blending of simple privilege and sweet popularity, steps in before and after, presenting an alternative escape to the stuck N. Perfectly inhabiting the part, Hunter Parrish (Broadway’s Godspell, “Weeds“) adds weight and texture to the overall mix of Good Grief, although the meaning of his presence and connection to the tragic hero is a bit forced. He represents the future, in some way, and in the moment of their attempt for engagement, they both hope to move beyond the incomprehensible feelings of loss and pain. The failure registers, caressing its way to somewhere touching and admirable. It feels so real, her struggle, and although her emergence, layered with mythology and symbolism, doesn’t ring entirely true, the overall effect works, even if the light of salvation doesn’t shine that bright.

GoodGrief0018 Ngozi Anyanwu and Hunter Parrish Photo by Carol Rosegg
Ngozi Anyanwu, Hunter Parrish. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

This was a play written because I missed someone and I missed myself when I was this young. I conjured him. I thought of him. Conjured my past and wrote the things I might have said or did had I a second chance to walk in this world.” That layering is beautifully crafted and stylistically poetic in Anyanwu’s profound and touching new play, Good Grief.She takes us on a journey from here to there and back, through the complex maze of memories filled to the brim with pain and loss of a young and beautiful man who held such love and devotion for a young lady in need.  It’s adventurous and jumbled, yet even when it doesn’t exactly shed light on the subject, we are reminded throughout that grief is convoluted and messy, but needed to find the good.

GoodGrief0475 Ngozi Anyanwu and Patrice Johnson Chevannes Photo by Carol Rosegg
Oberon K.A. Adjepong, Lisa Ramirez, Ngozi Anyanwu, Patrice Johnson Chevannes, Nnamdi Asomugha, Hunter Parrish. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
GoodGrief0385 Ngozi Anyanwu and Ian Quinlan Photo by Carol Rosegg
Ngozi Anyanwu, Ian Quinlan. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

So for more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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