BWW Review: In Ngozi Anyanwu's GOOD GRIEF, Shaping Memories Is A Part of Healing
For many of us of a certain age, the phrase "good grief" has been a part of our vocabulary since childhood as simply an expression of exasperation, thanks to the influence of Charles Schulz and his Peanuts gang.
But in her lovely and poetic piece of storytelling, Good Grief, playwright Ngozi Anyanwu, who also plays the central character, parses the wording down to something more literal, the cleansing nature of the grieving process and its ability to shape memories.
Ngozi plays Nkechi (nicknamed N), a med-school bound first generation Nigerian-American growing up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Her Papa (Oberon K.A. Adjepong) stresses out over the play of his beloved Philadelphia Eagles, her Nene (Patrice Johnson Chevannes) tries to sooth life's hard moments with African proverbs, and she shares her dreams and bares her soul to her best friend, misunderstood bad boy MJ (Ian Quinlan).
As N tells her story, we see moments of the two of them bonding their childhood and teenage relationship. From having important talks while looking at the decorative stars in MJ's bedroom, to practice kissing for another boy to maneuvering through the complications of having sex with each other to N finding out that MJ was killed in a car crash.
"Maybe I'm remembering something or someone else. Maybe I'm mixing him up with another love or person or feeling or time," N explains as her she shapes her grief into forms she can more easily relate to and express.
Which explains why her "first bout with bad news ever" is staged as a pro wrestling match, and why she keeps changing details into more satisfying forms, like when she tweaks an awkward encounter with MJ's mom (Lisa Ramirez).
Like a rush of memories, the ninety minutes of short scenes goes back and forth in chronology. N recalls Papa trying to lift her spirits with driving lessons, a heart-to-heart with her brother (Nnamdi Asomugha, a former player for the Philadelphia Eagles), enhanced by a joint and a 40, and her feeling of guilt for being attracted to clean cut JD (Hunter Parrish).
The playwright's display of understated emotions is gently played by fine cast in director Awoye Timpo's sensitive production. This isn't about grieving, but of the memory of grieving, told from a place where the healing has begun.