PICK The Cliches of Grief

God's Ear: An entertaining exploration of the language surrounding tragedy.

Washington Ensemble Theatre presents the most consistently inspired set designs of any small theater in the city, and Etta Lilienthal's for God's Ear is no exception. It's at once sterile and eye-catching, embodying the play's abstractions and creating the perfect space for Roger Benington's carefully choreographed blocking. Jenny Schwartz's play is about the demise of one couple's relationship as they grieve over the loss of their son—a premise that admittedly sounds like a dreadful evening of theater. Yet God's Ear is the most entertaining grief play I've seen, due in part to Schwartz's exploration of the language surrounding tragedy. She's infused her work with self-aware clichés, which account for, I'd estimate, at least a third of the dialogue. Although the convention occasionally grates on the ear, it's mostly an effective means of highlighting the hollow phrases endured by anyone, let's say, down on his luck. The language works particularly well for Mary Bliss Mather as Mel, the wife. She brings a wonderful sense of rhythm to the dialogue, and, along with Michael Place as her husband, leads a strong ensemble. Appearances by G.I. Joe, the Tooth Fairy, and a cross-dressing flight attendant add moments of humor, as does Libby Matthews as an eccentric drunk. BRENT ARONOWITZ

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