Editors' pick

The New & Improved Stages of Grief

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The New & Improved Stages of Grief photo
Photo by Mark Garvin/Courtesy of Mary Carpenter
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Editorial Review

Fringe review: 'The New and Improved Stages of Grief'
By Fiona Zublin
Monday, July 16, 2012

Grief is so enormous that anyone writing a one-woman show about grieving has two (or so) choices. You can go full Joan Didion and try to express the enormousness and enormity with every syllable, striving to encompass something too big for words. Or you can do what Mary Carpenter does in “The New and Improved Stages of Grief” and deal it a glancing blow.

Carpenter’s show at the Capital Fringe Festival moves fast, like someone still in the early stages of dealing with a death. It’s as if by making light of the subject and bouncing from short sequence to short sequence, she can avoid the long, dark night of the soul. Carpenter pulls audience members on stage to calculate the monetary cost of dealing with grief and coaches people on what to say at a funeral as her alter ego, Dot, a death etiquette consultant with a voice like Michele Bachmann’s. It all feels a little unpolished, but charmingly so -- she’s a funny lady, and if she buffed the rough edges from her play it would seem too unfeeling for the subject matter.

“The New and Improved Stages of Grief” -- the title stems from her judicious and profane editing of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ classic five-step process -- also reminds us that the deceased doesn’t need to be the love of one’s life for deep grieving to set in. By focusing on three different deaths (only one, her brother, a close relation), Carpenter makes clear that we will be dealing with death over and over again, going through this terrible, inescapable process myriad times in our lives. And then she gets us to laugh about it.