Entertainment » Theatre

She Looks Good in Black

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Sep 26, 2016
She Looks Good in Black

Salem-based playwright Sarah J. Mann delivers a stinging new comedy with "She Looks Good in Black," playing now through Oct. 2 at The Boston Playwrights' Theatre.

The production, by Exiled Theatre, features Cailin Doran as Shea, a widow whose just-deceased painter husband was deeply in the closet -- but not so deeply that he even pretended to pay her much sexual attention. After years of frustration her grief, anger, and bitterness combine into a perfect storm -- and anything could happen.

The tenor of what's to come is established in the play's opening moments, as mourners stand around her home admiring her husband's artwork, images of cross-species eros in which lions don't just lie down with lambs, but giraffes, eagles, and every other form of animal life also get it on in a wild celebration of earthly desire. (One wonders what sorts of canvases he would have produced had he pursued a same-sex marriage instead of engaging in a mainstreaming game of duck and cover. Is happiness truly the enemy of art)? Shea beholds her guests with prickly contempt, lashing out even at Art (Michael Kelly), a gallery owner whose name may be too on the nose, but also slyly in opposition to his true motivations. Art is an opportunist hoping to get in on the ground floor of what he senses could be a major post-mortem career. He's hoping to offer Shea a lucrative deal for the ownership of, and the rights to, the dead artist's body of work.

Shea's gay brother Beau (Colin Colford) is on hand to lend support and express concern; he also brings a touch of Southern Gothic to a work of theater that has plenty of gothic sensibility built in already. Most alarming to the bemused Beau is a growing attraction between Shea and a gravedigger named Sweet (Alexander Rankine), who works at the cemetery where the deceased has been interred. Shea appreciates Sweet's down-to-earth manner; he hears her complaints and advises her to "sweat it out." Though she comes to the graveyard to hurl invective at her husband's grave, she stays to bask in Sweet's attentive gaze and his blandishments.

Rounding out the cast is John Kinde, who plays a couple of roles (as do most of the players). James Wilkinson directs, and makes the long, narrow shape of the theatrical space work in his favor, allowing one half of the set to serve as Shea's home (a well-detailed kitchen area dominates here) while the other half serves as the cemetery (where hilariously fake Hallowe'en headstones made of plastic set the scene). Shifts from place to place are as simple a matter as a few steps taken in either direction, with the sound design (made up of some well-chosen snippets of music) smoothing out the transitions and helping reinforce the respective tones of the two environments. This production may be bare bones, but the story is hardly skeletal; there's plenty of meat there, and raucous wit to go with it.

A minor (and, regrettably, all-too-quickly varnished over) subplot involves another romantic tug, between Shea and Art. But if this intriguing threat isn't followed to interesting new places, as one might wish, it's in keeping with the play's headlong sense of momentum. This is a brisk, crisp work that scarcely takes a breath... and, as we come to discover, takes no prisoners.

"She Looks Good in Black" continues through Oct. 2 at the Boston Playwrights' Theater. For tickets and more information, please go to http://www.exiledtheatre.com

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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