Webster’s Bitch – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

Being confined in an office five days a week with co-workers can contribute to some tricky situations, a little jealousy, a few conflicts with the copy machine or the coffee pot, and even a missing lunch or three. The words we exchange can have meanings that ignite tempers, provoke controversy, soothe hurt feelings, create lasting friendships, alienate and enflame, all manner of reactions.

What would we do without words? Thanks to Noah Webster, in the early 19th century, we have his dictionary that honored American English spelling in literature and the arts and sciences. Webster did not invent the entries but rather popularized them. He went on to devote two decades to expanding the inclusions to 70,000 words. His editions originally cost $20, 2500 copies were printed and, in today’s money, would cost $647.73.

How weighty would your responsibilities be if you were a lexicographer working today to be accurate and timely with your definitions? The reality is that words can change in meaning with the ways the world works at the moment. The dictionary is the source of most words and the stepping stone for Jacqueline Bircher’s intriguing play “Webster’s Bitch” making its humorous and thought provoking production at New Haven Theater Company until Saturday, May 18.

Enter the office of Webster’s Dictionary where every day the employees grapple with definitions and the citations needed to justify any updates or changes. These are devotees who love language and what they do. What happens, however, when their illustrious leader is overheard and videoed saying a word both inappropriate and derogatory and the media world blasts it out with explosive speed and reaction? The normally quiet office is suddenly on fire and what do Gwen (Abby Klein) and Nick (Gavin Whelan) have to do to put out the conflagration? Not a fire extinguisher? Not a fireman? Can they use calming words to control the inferno? Ralph Buonocore’s Frank has, in his terms, accidentally called his second-in-command Joyce “a bitch” and further inflamed the situation by terming her “my bitch” and the social media world, in the “Me Too” accusatorial atmosphere, wants his head.

Lillian Garcia’s Joyce has mixed reactions to the slur and is calculating how to turn this unexpected event to her advantage. She never especially cared for Frank and she sees it as a means for her personal advancement. Gwen and Nick are appalled and want to fix the problem as quickly, quietly and smoothly as possible. Add to the mix is the pop up personality of Gwen’s sister, a madly humorous Ellie, played by Lisa DeAngelis, who sees the delicious satire of the situation and makes quick use of its bizarreness. Margaret Mann and John Watson co-direct this fun foray into language correctness and inappropriateness with skill.

For waiting list tickets (it’s sold out at the moment), leave your request at nhtcboxoffice@gmail.com. Performances are Thursday at 7:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at EBM Vintage, 839 Chapel Street, New Haven, a lovely consignment shop that houses the theater in the back.

Watch your p’s and q’s as the walls and the ears of the world are listening and ready to pounce at the slightest hint of incorrectness you may mistakenly utter.