Webster’s Bitch – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

What would we do without words? For a friendly Scrabble game, a play script, marriage vows, the choices for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, song lyrics, a business negotiation, getting a medical diagnosis, a phone conversation, a discussion of climate change, a scolding or loving word to a two year old, a consoling hug of comfort at a loss, how else do we express ourselves? Without words, we would be silent, expressionless, unable to communicate adequately how we think or feel…and how sad would the world be. Imagine, however, you worked at a desk in an office that was responsible for how words were used and defined. How weighty would your responsibilities be 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 the world premiere of Jacqueline Bircher’s intriguing play “Webster’s Bitch” making its humorous and thought provoking debut at West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park until Sunday, June 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 lexicographers 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 (Mia Wurgaft) and Nick (HanJie Chow) have to put what the conflagration? Not a fire extinguisher? Not a fireman? Can they use calming words to control the inferno?

Peter Simon Hilton’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. Veanne Cox’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 and smoothly as possible. Add to the mix is the pop up personality of Gwen’s sister, a madly humorous Ellie, played by Isabel Mank Cade, who sees the delicious satire of the situation and makes quick use of its bizarreness. Vanessa Morocco directs this fun foray into language correctness and inappropriateness with skill. Just walking through the cleverly adorned lobby of the theater, courtesy of artistic director Darlene Zoller, is invitation enough to attend.

For tickets ($45-55), call Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford at 860-523-5900 ext.10 or online at www.playhouseonpark.org. Performances are Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with talkbacks with the cast on Sundays. A Young Professionals Night is Thursday, June 15 at 7:30 p.m, with a 6 p.m. pre-show wine and cheese reception for $25.

If you love language and the sound of words, and even if you don’t, there is much to admire and love in “Webster’s Bitch” even if vulgar terms don’t ever leave your mouth.