At the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, a coming of age play in what might be described as a coming of age theatre, entitled Good Grief, now through March 27th. It is written by coming-of-age playwright Ngozi Anyanwu,
No, it is not about the life and times of the cartoon character Charlie Brown. As I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net and select websites, it is about a sensitive, if overwrought, Afro American girl coming to terms with her angst filled life and the tragic death of her puppy love in suburban Pennsylvania.
To be sure, it is the stuff of student drama workshops, where wanna be playwrights and screenwriters are told not to conjure up far away fantasies, but to pen real stories from their budding lives.
Good grist for the Douglas, which was founded to be a stage for new works and new voices, a satellite of sorts for the mother lode Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson and Mark Taper Forum downtown.
Not incidentally, now at the Taper is a riveting revival of “Zoot Suit,” which 40 years ago raised the curtain on the very political and public Latino experience in L.A.
In contrast, “Good Grief “evokes the main character’s Nigerian roots, but is very personal, and to anyone who has been parent to an adolescent girl, very familiar.
She was, shall I say it, a drama queen, lots of exclaiming, and gestures, intense faces, some crying. She loses her best friend, loses her virginity , but not her anxieties.
A grief counselor would have helped, though her caring parents, wonderfully played and effecting, deserved the applause they received during the play.
And you had to like the principal focus of the play, the young girl, acted no less than by Anyanwu, the playwright herself. It was a hell of debut, a high dive or sorts into the professional pool of the dramatic arts.
Perhaps it was the American suburban oven the story was cooked in, but to me the African sauce had a pinch of kosher salt. One could call the concoction “schmaltzy,” a soulful, timeworn tale.
Helping immeasurably was the staging: the spare sets, by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz , assorted costumes by Karen Perry, and the polished, crisp direction by Patricia McGregor. It made for an engaging evening in the theatre.