A young play

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Ngozi Anyanwu's play Good Grief is a young play.

It's young play, in part, because the storyline revolves around young people. Our protagonist, who is played onstage by the playwright, has just suffered her first devastating loss. M.J. who was sort of her boyfriend but not really, maybe her future husband -- but who knows, and definitely her best friend -- M.J. has just tragically died in a car crash.

Good Grief is a play told in two opposing story arcs. One, told in flashbacks, begins when these two were awkward middle schoolers walking home after school and bonding over Pacman. It's a story of two friends facing the challenges of growing up: a first kiss, being a virgin, maybe discovering your best friend is your lover. It's the tale of how two people can become so close and not admit it.

The other story arc is about letting go of someone that close who's died. It's a play about trying to make sense of mortality and all the things we do before we can cry and mourn.

Good Grief is also a young play because you can feel it's the writing of a young playwright. There's something incomplete and not fully formed to it. One can imagine a sort of pointed critique that takes the play to task.

It would talk about the odd flights of fancy in the play. Take the professional wrestling match when our heroine is forced to confront the tragic news and is literally and metaphorically pinned down by it. Is that really earned and how does it track through the rest of the script?

Or I can imagine a wise dramaturg asking just exactly how the Nigerian family that lurks in the background would deal with mourning. Shouldn't there be something, maybe a piece of ancient wisdom or a ritual that ties it all together more cleanly?

Or I can imagine a tough meeting with a director, a real heart to heart, where the playwright is asked - aren't you really avoiding writing the tough parts of this play, in the same way your character is avoiding this grief?

In one way, those criticisms would be spot on . . . but this is a young play and that's part of its charm. It's a play about a young woman coming of age and trying to ponder mortality and family and the future -- not from a wise and settled place but in the midst of it - in denial, not knowing, unsure. As an audience, especially an older one, there's a temptation to impose a "been there, done that" mindset on this play and playwright: to polish off the rough edges and bend it into another play... but let's resist that urge.

Instead, let's enjoy seeing a young play produced and given an audience. It's a chance for an audience to see an artist in the act of becoming, to be reminded of how confusing becoming an adult really is -- at any age, and to grapple with what exactly good grief looks like.

Here's to more young plays.

Good Grief plays at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City through March 26.

For info on the show or to subscribe to the weekly KCRW theater newsletter, check out: kcrw.com/theater.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission.

(L-R) Wade Allain-Marcus and Ngozi Anyanwu in the world premiere of Good Grief. (© 2017 Craig Schwartz)