Thursday, October 18, 2018

Margin Notes: Goodbody

Amanda Sykes and Raife Baker as Marla
and Spencer. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Seen on: Tuesday, 10/16/18.
My grade: B-

Plot and Background
In a barn in upstate New York, Marla has just shot and killed a man, and in doing so seems to have wiped out most of her memories of her adult life. Spencer, cowering before her and covered in blood and duct-taped injuries, must convince her to lower her weapon and cooperate with a hasty escape from the crime scene. A tangled web of lies, betrayal, and organized crime spirals into a McDonagh/Tarantino-inspired confrontation. Goodbody marks The Crook Theater Company's first original work, written by co-founder J.C. Ernst.

What I Knew Beforehand
Just the basic premise, of a woman with amnesia standing over a dead body.


Play: My knee-jerk impulse is to tell everyone this play needs a few trigger warnings; but since the opening tableau is a blood-spattered barn, a dead body, a severely injured man in a chair, and a woman firing a gun, perhaps that's all the trigger warning one needs. But just in case: there's a fair amount of torture, violence, and gore in this play, particularly in the back third. There's also a somewhat problematic (not to say disappointing) treatment of mental illness and the too-common crutch of using it as an explanation for violence. And in all honesty, it's hard for me to look past that. The conclusion feels like lazy storytelling, opting for a simpler absurdist explanation, rather than one rooted in character or even the arc of the players at hand. But to give it a fair shake, playwright J.C. Ernst has a good ear for dialog, for finding the humor in the grotesque, and director Melissa Firlit makes able and dynamic use of the intimate space, never making the physicality of the piece feel crowded or inorganic. The show could use some tightening of its beats, and (in my wish) a re-examination of its conclusion, but if you're out for a bloody weird evening this Halloween season, this is a good bet.

Cast: The cast is good, though not always perhaps in the same world as each other. Amanda Sykes's Marla seems almost cartoonish in her childlike curiosity about all the blood and death surrounding her, while Raife Baker brings a pained earnestness (and an earnest painhe's the one covered in bleeding wounds) to ground the proceedings, even as each explanation he gives marks what a skilled liar he is. Dustin Charles's Chance is adequately threatening as the leader of the crime syndicate, though perhaps a touch over the top. Alex Morf is a real highlight as Aimes, the butt of everyone's joke, but convinced he can prove himself if given the chance.

Design: Matthew D. McCarren's scenic design is terrific, utilizing the intimate space at 59E59's Theater C to build a two-level barn, full of hiding spaces, creaking wood, and objects which could turn to weapons at the drop of a guard. I do have some issues with his lighting design, but these might be more properly sent to director Firlit, as they concern the three moments in isolated white lightmoments which are brought out of the literal, but for reasons I can't adequately explain. Dan Morrison does good work with the costume design, quickly and economically signalling each character's status, as well as having a ball with any design involving injuries and gore.


Running: Now playing at 59E59 Theaters (The Crook Theater Company) - Opening: October 11, 2018. Closing: November 4, 2018.
Category: straight play
Length: 1 hour, 40 minutes, no intermission.

Creative Team

Playwright: J.C. Ernst
Director: Melissa Firlit
Designers: Matthew D. McCarren (Scenic & Lighting), Dan Morrison (Costume), Matt Bittner (Original Music & Sound), Cliff Williams III (Fight Director).
Cast: Raife Baker, Dustin Charles, Alex Morf, Amanda Sykes.

Raife Baker as Spencer. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

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