Its silly title belies what a cracking good play Bekah Brunstetter's Be A Good Little Widow really is. Its commentaries on love, marriage, death and grieving are potent but not ponderous, and a talented four-person cast on The Old Globe's Sheryl and Harvey White stage generates laughter, surprise and just the right number of lump-in-your-throat moments.
Primary among them is Zoe Winters, whose good little widow, Melody, is fun to watch even when she's suffering. (She loses her young husband, Craig, in a plane crash.) Not only is Winters gifted at the art of physical comedy, but her wide-eyed double takes are ideally suited to the play's shifting light and darkness. As Hope, Craig's tightly controlled mother, Christine Estabrook is free-spirited Melody's polar opposite, yet both are torn apart and need each other more than either would admit. The one-act evolution of their relationship in the midst of mourning is what makes Be A Good Little Widow so damned good.
It runs through June 9 at The Old Globe Theatre. $29 and up. oldglobe.org
Death on a far broader scale is examined by Ion Theatre Company, which is staging Rajiv Joseph's Pulitzer-nominated Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. Set in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Joseph's volatile drama trafficks in guilt and ghosts.
The central figure and truth-seeker is a tiger (Ron Choularton) wearing not stripes but rags. He prowls the stage, challenging God to explain or justify the way things are, violent and inexplicable as they seem to be. His rants are funnier and somehow more incisive coming from a "tiger," though at times they feel stagy. Brian Abraham's Arab gardener, Musa, is the play's most sympathetic character: He's a topiary artist, a reluctant go-between in the real and afterlife mayhem in Baghdad, and the purveyor of playwright Joseph's weightiest words.
Claudio Raygoza, who also appears as Saddam's eldest son, Uday, directs a charged cast that includes Jake Rosko and Evan Kendig as American soldiers who succumb to the lure of Saddam's ill-gotten gold and to self-destruction. Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo is thick with symbolism, but it's also a story of man and beast—and how it's hard to tell the two apart.
It runs through June 1 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. $20-$33. iontheatre.com
The Divine Sister: A bawdy parody of wholesome 1960s-era movies reveals what secrets lie within St. Veronica's convent school. Opens May 23 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
Green Day's American Idiot: A musical based on Green Day's 2004 concept album of the same name follows three disaffected young men as they flee a stifling life in suburbia. Runs May 28 through June 2 at the Civic Theatre, Downtown. broadwaysd.com
His Girl Friday: In an adaptation of the 1940 film, a reporter planning to leave the business is convinced by her editor and ex-husband to stay in the game for one last scoop. Opens May 28 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org
Moonlight and Magnolias: A farcical look at what happens when legendary Hollywood producer David O. Selznick locks himself and two others in a room for five days so they can finish the script for Gone with the Wind. Opens May 24 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Shakespeare's R&J: The Bard's classic tragedy is recontextualized by four male Catholic military-school cadets. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it opens May 22 at The Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
The Sound of Music Reportedly, rolling hills, animated by music, come to life in a story about an aspiring nun and an Austrian family at the onset of World War II. Presented by San Diego Musical Theatre, it runs through May 29 at the Birch North Park Theatre. sdmt.org
Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo Ion Theatre Company explores the Iraq war through a story about two American soldiers and a talking tiger freed from the Baghdad Zoo. Through June 1 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
I Love My Computer Because My Friends Live in It The new musical by Broadway Vista co-owner Randall Hickman focuses on five women and their electronic-communication and social-media exploits. Through June 1 at the Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
Other Desert Cities A novelist visits her famous parents in Palm Springs amid her plans to publish a memoir that unearths an unpleasant family secret. Through June 2 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling BeeSix adults play quirky middle-school students in a musical comedy that spans the length of a spelling contest. Through June 8 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
Be a Good Little WidowIn a melancholy comedy,a young woman's unsatisfying marriage ends early when her husband dies, leaving her to cope with her heard-to-please mother-in-law and learn a thing or two about herself. Through June 9 at The Old Globe Theatre's Sheryl and Harvey White Stage in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
Seascape Tension surrounds a long-married couple when they encounter a couple of human-size, talking reptiles on the beach in Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Through June 9 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.orgFiddler on the RoofThe romantic notions of a working-class Russian Jew's daughters are a total pain in his traditional butt. Through June 30 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
Crime Pays A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net