Clockwise from top left: Sean Childress. Izzy Keel, Meg Caudill, Morgan Younge, & Jane Embry Watts.
Good Grief (a stage play,with music)
Script & original music by By Erin Fitzgerald
Directed by Shannon Woolley Allison
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2021 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Grief is not static. We grapple with it precisely because it is so fluid and unpredictable. We seek to define it in very specific terms to give ourselves the illusion of control over a highly uncertain experience.
We have been grieving as a society for the last 12 months, living through a global pandemic that has killed more than half a million U.S citizens and disrupted the structure and routine of our daily lives, including not being able to gather in theatres to watch plays.
Erin Fitzgerald’s Good Grief was scheduled to premiere just as COVID overtook us, one of the early casualties of the shutdown, so it predates the pandemic, even while it now cannot help but resonate in new ways because of it.
We first meet Claudia (Meg Caudill) through a profanity-laced monologue inside of her car in which she questions the worth of a grief support group she has started. The other members are Calvin (Sean Childress), William (Jane Embry Watts), and June (Morgan Younge). The action of the story gets underway as Lyn (Izzy Keel) tentatively joins the group, clutching a backpack like a security blanket. Lyn’s awkward demeanor suggests many things, and the group’s compassion and understanding is put to the test as they get to know her better.
Fitzgerald poses useful questions about how grief functions in such a mercurial and individual fashion, and that the loss that triggers it can take many forms. The writing is both serious and comic in turn and the production attempts to embrace the full range of emotions with different techniques. The group meetings are rendered through social conferencing screens and each character has independent and isolated monologues. Surrealistic imagery is incorporated for some dream sequences but also incongruously crops up in the background of a scene of the group driving through town. The climactic scenes occur at an outdoor location that serves a very specific purpose, but the impact is undercut because the challenges of recording dialogue in the open air are not entirely overcome.
Despite its limitations, the strongest interactions for the ensemble occur with the conference screens. The actors do a good job of playing as if they are within the same space, and a key confrontation between William and Lyn was a highlight of the play. As much effort as went into it, the inconsistencies in filming technique don’t do the material any favors.
As with most of the past year’s virtual productions, the quality of human performance is as crucial as in live theatre and is the clear strength of this presentation. After seeing them work several times now, Izzy Keel has come to seem chameleon-like in finding a distinct voice and look for each role. Keel daringly dips into the physical mannerisms one might associate with autism but leaves that question unanswered. Such a degree of mystery seems important here.
Meg Caudill adroitly walks a fine line with Claudia’s balance of pain and almost cheerful leadership in the group, and Sean Childress comfortably underplays Calvin, the most laid back of the characters. Morgan Younge is the most emotionally accessible as June, who most forcibly expresses the anger and vitriol that is a common part of the grieving process, but Jane Embry Watts runs a close second with the combative William, whose blunt language and short fuse prove crucial to connecting with Lyn’s reality.
Good Grief was developed under the auspices of the Derby City Playwrights, and it includes music composed by the playwright that nicely captures the irreverence of the perspective. The songs are not typical musical theatre fare – “grief is a fucking trip!” is one refrain, and so this is indeed a play with music, one that understands that all questions don’t have answers and that not all pain can be healed. Sometimes such pain becomes a permanent part of us, something we carry as much for its comfort after the disruption has passed.
Good Grief (a stage play,with music)
Looking for Lilith Theatre Company
March 19-31, 2021
TICKET PRICES: Pay-What-You-Can
Suggested Ticket Price: $15 / Minimum ticket price: $5
*Ticket prices do not include ticket processing & credit card fees
Your virtual ticket includes the opportunity to experience Good Grief on your terms and at your leisure, with 24/7 accessibility.
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.