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Good Grief

Theatre Review by David Hurst - November 2, 2018

Ngozi Anyanwu and Ian Quinlan
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Following her wondrous exploration of a Nigerian woman's emotional reckoning with her country, her family and herself in The Homecoming Queen last January at Atlantic's Stage 2, playwright Ngozi Anyanwu steps into the fall at The Vineyard with Good Grief, a distinctly unconventional exploration of loss and bereavement in which question marks hang in the air alongside the many stars that populate the night sky. Told from multiple perspectives and various moments in time, Anyanwu herself takes center stage as Nkechi, the daughter of Nigerian immigrants who finds herself at a crossroads as she takes a break from medical school to reevaluate her life and ends up being forced to deal with the loss of a childhood friend who may have also been a boyfriend, a lover, and a confidante. Or was he? The magic in Anyanwu's writing is her ability to craft dialogue that sounds natural, while at the same time working in a vernacular that's distinctly her own. She often backtracks and then questions what's just transpired so we're never sure whether what we've seen is a memory or a fabrication of what she wanted it to be. But this is less confusing that it sounds. Hers is a unique voice that's as fresh as it is authentic.

Good Grief, performed without an intermission, "Â…takes place between 1992 and 2005. Also the beginning of time. And the future." The elliptical nature of Anyanwu's structure comes into focus as Nkechi, who's also called N, has returned to Buck's County where she was raised in order to take a break from medical school as she tries to figure out what she wants to do with her life. There she reconnects with her childhood friend and crush, Mathew Jason George (a superb Ian Quinlan) referred to as MJ, and they quickly fall into a romantic relationship that is never defined. MJ is the ultimate slacker and Quinlan, who is distractingly beautiful, underplays his intoxicating charms perfectly. But tragedy strikes MJ and the remainder of Good Grief finds Nkechi trying to make sense of what is, what was and what might have been.

Anyone who's experienced loss will recognize Nkechi's journey as well as the fascinating manner in which Anyanwu structures her search for answers. Nkechi's father and mother, Papa and NeNe (the excellent Oberonk K.A. Adjepong and Patrice Johnson Chevannes) are concerned about her depression and want her to return to school. Her brother, Bro (a charismatic Nnamdi Asomugha), who's eschewed their suburban education and upbringing in favor of a more street embodiment, is sympathetic to Nkechi but they're on different paths. Nkechi dabbles with JD (a terrific Hunter Parrish), a golden boy she tutored in high school but she's unable to move forward with him until she resolves her feelings about MJ. She visits MJ's mother (the lovely Lisa Ramirez) hoping for closure but she only finds more questions.

Beautifully directed by Awoye Timpo, who also directed The Homecoming Queen, ultimately Good Grief is a memory play about questioning. Making sense of our mortality is one of life's inevitable riddles and Anyanwu's lyrical and heartfelt attempt to dramatize one young woman's search for an answer is as poignant as it is moving.

Good Grief
Through November 18
Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix