Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Set between 1992 and 2005, Good Grief centers around Nkechi (Morgan Charéce Hall), a young woman living with her parents and brother in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Nkechi is doing her best to cope with the loss of her best friend MJG (Dell Jackson), but her parents (Phillip Brown and Zuhairah McGill) just want her to get over it and move forward with her life. Time jumps forward and backward so we get to see moments from Nkechi's friendship with MJG after we have watched her struggling to accept that he is really gone forever. It is a clever and effective way to structure this play about grief, family and friendship.
Hall's portrayal of Nkechi absolutely blew me away. Because of the way time jumps around in Good Grief Hall had to instantly change from from precocious tween to greif-stricken college student to sexually frustrated high school freshman. Hall rose to the challenge with stunning grace and ample skill. Jackson played her best friend MJG with a guileless charm. The chemistry between Hall and Jackson was perfect and their exchanges were frequently laugh out loud funny. Brown and McGill also shared a special connection on stage. The funny and insightful scene where the pair "spoon" on the couch and talk about their daughter's grief was a highlight of the production.
Tiffany Bacon's costume designs were spot on for the period and the mood of the play. Will Lowry's lighting design added a sense of drama and even a little magic.
This production faltered toward the second half when the time becomes linear and the focus shifted away from Nkechi and her grief. Sequences focusing on Nkechi's parents and boyfriend felt like a distraction–albeit an entertaining one–from the central narrative. Long scene transitions exacerbated the problem and the pace lagged at times. I suspect a little editing and some smoother transitions would have elevated the production from great to spectacular.
Good Grief ran through February 26, 2023, at Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Rd., Media PA. For more information, please visit www.hedgerowtheatre.org.