By Ngozi Anyanwu; Directed by Awoye Timpo
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 11.18.18
Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street
by Sarah Moore on 10.30.18
Ngozi Anyanwu and Ian Quinlan in Good Grief. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
BOTTOM LINE: Ngozi Anyanwu stars in her own gorgeous and poignant play as a first-generation Nigerian-American who suffers an enormous loss.
“He was just here…” Bro says to N, somehow summarizing the feelings that come with losing someone too soon, unexpectedly. Bro is the brother of N, the narrator and central character of Good Grief; N is short for Nkechi, but most people around her can’t pronounce that. Her family is Nigerian-American, and she is first generation. Nkechi is played here by the playwright, Ngozi Anyanwu, and she feels deeply real and vibrant.
It’s not a spoiler to say that N loses someone—after all, "grief" is in the title. The play tells the story of N's relationship with the lovable, hilarious MJ (Ian Quinlan), using a non-linear structure: the action is set “between 1992 and 2005/Also the beginning of time…/And the future.” Anyanwu introduces us to N and MJ in happier times; we see how close they are, and begin to understand the depth of their friendship...and why when MJ dies suddenly, it hits N so hard.
Anyanwu’s storytelling is completely unique and constantly engaging. The non-linear timeline is reminiscent of human memory: sometimes we remember things differently than they really happened, maybe because we remember things the way we wished they’d happen. Awoye Timpo’s direction tackles the disjointed timeline easily, with pacing and staging that make perfect sense, allowing the audience to follow the story without any confusion. The scenic design (Jason Ardizzone-West) fits with the setting, which is to say it’s not naturalistic but rather a bit cosmic, and is the exact right fit for the story, complimented by Oona Curley’s gorgeous lighting design.
Anyanwu acts as well as she writes—I can’t imagine this role being played by any other actress. The supporting men are also excellent: Quinlan brings warmth and likeability to MJ, and it’s not hard to see why N is crushed when she loses him. Hunter Parrish (Spring Awakening and Godspell on Broadway a few years back) plays JD, N’s high school crush who comes back into her life; he's every bit the high school heartthrob, but quickly reveals himself to be a really good guy. Nnamdi Asomugha plays Bro, N’s brother, with a laid back, grounded presence, and his chemistry with Anyanwu feels real. And Oberon K. A. Adjepong and Patrice Johnson Chevannes, playing N’s parents, are absolutely perfect.
Good Grief is Anyanwu’s second play in New York, following last season’s The Homecoming Queen (also directed by Timpo). Though separate and distinct, both draw heavily on her Nigerian heritage, and tackle the difficulties of being a first-generation American woman, struggling with living in two cultures. Anyanwu has distinguished herself as one of our finest new voices in the theatre scene; her work explores themes and perspectives that no one else's does. Good Grief is eloquent and emotional in all sorts of unexpected ways, but its themes allow everyone to find a piece of the story to which they can personally relate. It’s a pleasure to go on this dramatic journey.
(Good Grief plays at the Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street, through November 18. The running time is 90 minutes, no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7; Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 3 and 8; and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $45, $79, and $100. For tickets and more information call 212-3530-0303 or visit vineyardtheatre.org.)
Good Grief is by Ngozi Anyanwu. Directed by Awoye Timpo. Set Design by Jason Ardizzone-West. Costume Design by Andy Jean. Lighting Design by Oona Curley. Sound Design by Daniel Kluger. Original Music by Joy Ike. Production Stage Manager is Alyssa K. Howard.
The cast is Oberon K.A. Adjepong, Ngozi Anyanwu, Nnamdi Asomugha, Patrice Johnson Chevannes, Hunter Parrish, Ian Quinlan, and Lisa Ramirez.