Grant MacDermott Prepares to ’Be A Good Little Widow’
"Be A Good Little Widow," Bekah Brunstetter’s play about rediscovering life in the midst of loss and grief, is set to play for two weekends (Thursdays-Sundays) at Davis Square Theatre in Somerville in a production from Aim Stage.
"Bekah Brunstetter will be there at the [Aug. 5] Sunday matinee for a talk back," Grant MacDermott, one of the stars of the production, told EDGE.
MacDermott is something of a fixture on the Boston theater scene, having starred in a host of productions around the city, including "The Great American Trailer Park Musical" and the new musical "Cupcake," which premiered in June. MacDermott is also featured in the upcoming film "Last Man Out," by director David Young, alongside fellow Boston actors John Kuntz, Rick Park, and Will Lyman.
"She’s an up and coming playwright," MacDermott noted of Brunstetter. "She was the student of Christopher Shinn, who wrote ’Now or Later,’ which I’m doing at the Huntington this fall.
"[Shinn] and I are Facebook friends, which is weird," MacDermott added. "I’m thinking, ’You were nominated for the Pulitzer, and I know you?’ He saw that I was doing ’Be A Good Little Widow,’ and he told me, ’Oh, no way--that’s so funny!" She was his student the first year he was teaching at the New School.
"It’s a lovely little play," MacDermott, who plays Craig’s friend Brad, continued. "Without revealing too much, though the title gives you a general idea, the main character is Melody [played by Chelsea Cipolla], who is 26 and married to Craig [Jason Powers], and Craig is in a plane crash. Melody has to be a good little widow," because her mother-in-law, played by Lisa Tucker, won’t have it any other way.
"Sometimes we see Craig, but he is definitely dead," MacDermott noted. "The play is about the interaction of all of them, and how this catastrophic event propels them all into this new space."
Brunstetter’s play is an intimate piece, the actor said. "There are only a couple of three-people scenes, but for the most part the scenes only have two people. It’s definitely an ensemble piece, but it’s a small piece; it doesn’t take up a lot of space, but the ideas are really large. The simplest ideas are usually the grandest, and the ones that people write about time and again. This is definitely one of those plays, and I think that she really makes some headway with those themes that we’ve been writing about forever: Grief and love and sadness.
"Her language is just beautiful, which makes it easy for the actors because you don’t have to really work as hard to access some of the emotions in the play’s situations, because she uses this beautiful language to unlock you," MacDermott, who, with Cipolla, runs mycollegeaudition.com, runs an coaching business for actors and aspiring actors, added. "She’s such an excellent writer; I guess the only thing I can say is come and see this play for yourself and see what it does to you. If you’ve ever loved someone and lost someone, especially if that loss was premature in the sense that you really didn’t expect it, then this is definitely a play for you."
Everyone is a widow, so to speak, when someone dies; such tragedy leaves a hole in many lives. MacDermott addressed this point as well.
"In each scene, you get to see how this person affected all these other people, and not in some sort of grand way, but rather in this everyday way... It’s the sort of thing that you’d hope people would remember about you. It’s not the big things that matter; the big things are not who you were, or who you are. It’s the little things, like how you hold a coffee cup. That’s the stuff people remember. The best eulogies are when you talk about what people really meant to you, even if it’s messy or weird."
Asked what he thinks people would remember about him, the young actors, who is only 25, paused and reflected for a long moment.
"Oh, my god. That’s a heavy question," MacDermott said. "I hope it’s small stuff, because that’s interesting. To be honest, I hope it’s not... this is gonna bite me in the ass, no matter what I do," he added with a sudden laugh. "I hope it’s not only stuff like, ’He was a fantastic actor,’ ’He was a wonderful theater artist.’ I’d very much like to make a contribution to the world like that, where plays I’ve written are a big deal, and the acting I’ve done is respected; I don’t need to be a star, but... sort of like when Celeste Holm passed away and people who really know theater and good acting were left saying, ’That’s sad; but also not so sad, because she lived such a wonderful life and made such a contribution.’
"But to answer your question, I hope what people remember about me is stuff that I don’t even realize that I do," MacDermott continued. "There’s a part of the play where Melody is writing a eulogy for Craig, and she’s writing about the silly stuff that makes you a person. It’s one of the most beautiful parts of the play. There’s this one line that gets to me every time, and it’s so simple. She just says, ’He was the nicest man. He was the nicest man.’ She repeats it, and for some reason just saying it twice... it gets to me every time.
"It’s sort of like how I remember my father," MacDermott, whose father died when the actor was 21, added. "What we talk about the most is the weird stuff he would do: How he would hate it when you’d leave stuff on the stairs, but he’d leaves stuff on the stairs himself.
"I remember when I was younger he’d come to tuck me in, but he’d fall asleep first, and he’d always fall asleep on this stuffed bear I had. It was his stuffed animal that was also mine. Stuff like that. I doubt he’d even give a second thought to if he were still alive--but to me it was super-important.
"I don’t know what people would remember about me," MacDermott reflects. "In a way, I guess it’s not my job to know. And in a way, that’s what the play is about; it’s not the dead person’s job to do anything. And it’s really simple in that you don’t necessarily get a lot of answers. You don’t get answers in real life... not that plays should mirror real life, but there are portions of this play that are very real. Not that your dead husband if going to appear in your living room and talk to you, which happens in this play. But that’s the thing of it, too; everything comes to an end, even if it’s wonderful. That’s a hard pill for everyone to swallow. We tend to walk around like our lives are never going to stop, but of course they will."
EDGE suggested that, having lost a parent at such a young age, the play’s themes must be personal to MacDermott.
"It is," the young actor replied. "A lot of people who I love are gone, which is bullshit; I mean, I’m only 25. But it’s hard to stay mad, because, well, we’ve all got to go at some point. That’s what the play’s about, too; people are taken too early. Or is it too early? Does losing someone also give you something as a person? Is there such a thing as someone dying too early? We might think so, but how can we say?
"This would be personal to anyone, because it’s universal," MacDermott went on to note. "Everyone knows what it’s like to lose something, or at least they know what it’s like to fear losing something. This play explores the reality of those parts of human life really beautifully; no sugar coating and no hyperbole. This is a little bit of magical realism... or is it? I’m not sure. But this is something where people go to be challenged and think and feel; I would challenge anyone to go and see this piece and not shed at least one tear, and not just out of sadness. This is a hilarious play, the kind of play where you say, ’Why am I laughing? I feel so awful that I’m laughing at this.’ But it’s also one of those plays where you’re in the middle of some tragic event and you just laugh, because that’s what you need."
"Be A Good Little Widow" plays Aug. 2-5 and Aug. 9-12. Tickets cost $17 plus service fees, and are available online.