by Claire DeMarco, ‘Burgh Vivant
N (Elise Dorsey) lost her young, best friend MJ (Ivan Bracy Jr.) in a car accident. They grew up together, sharing dreams, confidences and aspirations. Devastated by his loss, she withdraws from med school and puts her life on hold.
N’s parents Papa (Pierre Mballa) and Nene (Mia Sterbini) emigrated from Nigeria and settled in Bucks County where N and her brother Bro (Tim Judah) were born and raised. The family is instrumental in their support of N as she deals with MJ’s death.
Old school friend JD (Alex Fetzko) offers support. MJ’s mom (Malle Winters) and N attempt mutual consolation.
But N’s way of dealing with this tragedy is by splicing pieces of her memories with MJ to fit what she needs in order to cope. Thoughts, flashbacks, remembrances are arranged in her mind non-sequentially as she envisions moments with MJ – their first meeting, his teaching her how to kiss. The kiss lesson centers on N’s interest in JD, a student she likes. Kiss training leads to what might have led to a personal relationship between N and MJ. At times her file of memories pulls folders from her past that have nothing to do with MJ’s death but bring her some solace (reliving when Papa taught her to drive).
As N struggles with her loss, she remembers something MJ told her a long time ago. “You won’t let me disappear.”
Dorsey is powerful as she tries to deal with her friend’s death. Sometimes using humor and often enlisting anger, we relate to her turmoil.
Bracy delights as we see him develop from a young, self-conscience youth to a man full of hope. He shows unique comedic skills but also a serious side in his evolving friendship with Dorsey.
Fetzko’s bed scene with Dorsey is hilarious. He has great movements and spot on timing.
Judah transitions from the brother who lovingly spars with his sister to a common sense sibling intent on providing guidance.
Mballa is serious and wise. He’s also adroit at injecting low key humor, all with a western African dialect.
Sterbini is the perfect mom. She is willing to console at any time but gives her daughter space to mourn alone.
In a brief encounter Winters transitions from a crazed, grieving mother to a gentle woman to being mad at God.
Credit to Fight Director Shannon Donovan for the choreographed fight scenes that are physical but well-controlled.
Another Note: In this black box theater, it is sometimes difficult to hear the dialogue when the actors’ backs are to the audience.
“Good Grief” was written by Ngozi Anyanwu and directed by Reginald L. Douglas.
“Good Grief” is a production of Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse, Rauh Theatre, 201 Wood Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 and runs from October 18 to October 27, 2019.
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