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The Dance on Widows' Row

A comedy about widows doesn't knock 'em dead

By Phyllis Zhu | Posted 3/24/2010

The Dance on Widows' Row

By Samm-Art Williams

Through March 28 at Arena Players

The Dance on Widow's Row, written by Samm-Art Williams, is a comedy about four widows who decide to host a dinner party for themselves and four eligible bachelors. Only three suitors show up for the four ladies, though that doesn't stop the level-headed leader of the group, Magnolia (Penny Demps), from carrying out her plans for the evening. She tries to put on a lovely party for Deacon Hudson (Barnett Lloyd), Newly (William Walker), and Randolph (Archie Williams) to show the intimidated men of Port Town, N.C., that the widows of Widow's Row are charming and normal, in spite of their tally of six dead husbands—not to mention netting a man for herself.

Magnolia's posse of Lois (Charlotte McDaniel), who is prone to referencing her dead husbands, and Simone (Ama Brown), who asks everyone if they've seen her commercial appearance, are also on the look-out for a good catch, though cat fights ensue when prudish, churchgoing little Annie Talbot (Charlene Harris) steals the show, and the menfolk.

One costume change and one suspicious death later, the jokes are still the same, mainly falling under the old-spinster-trying-to-get-a-new-rich-husband joke or the I'm-a-widow-and-I'll-kill-any-man-I-look-at joke. The humor may not be very complicated, but the actresses know how to get a laugh from the audience, as they slyly play off their characters' insecurities and those of the bachelors. Magnolia, Simone, and Lois turn into gossipy schoolgirls when they make fun of Annie and her old-fashioned style, and collapse into giggles and eyelash batting when they see their male guests. It feels like you're watching prom happen all over again as the women flirt and the men's eyes dart from lady to lady.

In the second half, the play loses momentum, and some of its funny, as it turns from a comedy to a pseudo murder mystery. The intrigue doesn't build significantly, and by the time we do find out whodunit, some of the energy the characters had in the beginning is gone. We also see the same scene repeated—one group goes outside to the yard to have a pow-wow, while the other group speculates on what they're pow-wowing about. The groups change, but the set-up doesn't, begging the question of whether or not both scenes were really necessary, or was the playwright or director just tired of keeping the characters in the same room the whole time?

Harris, who has appeared on Broadway, distinguishes herself among the women. Her Annie is the only character that undergoes a transformation, and she makes it work. She plays the victim well, hanging her head and pouting when Magnolia criticizes her for showing off, and defiantly threatening to leave the party even though it's clear she wants to stay with her friends.

The set design by Robert Russell, consisting only of Magnolia's house and her yard, uses the space well and gives the couples room to maneuver and the women space to arrange themselves strategically for their male guests to crowd around them in admiration. Unlike the party it portrays, The Dance on Widows' Row is light-hearted and a good laugh, but don't expect too much more than that.

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