Also see Fred's review of The Sty of the Blind Pig
Designer James Schuette provides a cluttered, realistic vision of a general store with shelves stocked and stoked with most everything he could find. Beams overhead add perspective and one feels tempted to step right up and jump into the space. (One theatergoer on opening night spent most of the one intermission leaning on the stage). Anderson's time period is sometime between 1961 and 1994 and her play feels like it is contemporarynot nineteen-sixties. Additionally (and this is her prerogative), her context is a town somewhere but where? No answer is provided.
Stacey (Clifton Duncan) has recently arrived to assume control of the store Good Goods since his father has left the scene. Where has he gone? Why? He and Patricia (De'Adre Aziza) were on the road performing as, one gathers, a comic duo. Patricia brings with her youthful, blazingly attractive Sunny (Angela Lewis). Sunny's marriage was set up for her and she chooses to flee. The man who has been managing the store for quite some time, Truth (Marc Damon Johnson), thinks he should ascend and reap the profits of the small business. Wire (Kyle Beltran) is a guy in and about the town who seems to have some sense of those in the area; he is also twin to Patricia.
This is a factory village as indicated by smokestacks upstage. The prognostication that a dreadful accident might occur is fulfilled. The final character to appear is Waymon (Oberon K.A. Adjepong), who was in the factory during the catastrophic moment and then assumes a pivotal role in the play. Someone is later possessed and that turns out to be Sunny, who takes on another personality. Angela Lewis's ability to shift gears and personas is blinding and sensational. See for yourself.
Anderson is a talented writer who jams a bit much into this play. The Russian dramatist, Maxim Gorky, as he describes naturalism, speaks of characters (and this might apply): "They must follow the inspiration of their own destiny ... They must be driven by their own inner impulses, create the incidents and episodes ... and direct the course of the play, being permitted to act in harmony with their own contradictory natures, interests, and passions." The attention-getting production at Yale Rep is due to Anderson's expertise. It is, at times, impossible to sense what might next transpire. The playwright finds these people, provides them with dialogue and situations, and then frees them within the boundaries of her script. Fortunately, the world premiere features actors who have the combination of fiery energy and acute discipline to maximize their roles.
Anderson's resolution finally makes sense but the path toward it is sometimes meandering and difficult. These characters are caught in struggle and an observer must grapple with the proceedings to significantly follow all of it. Besides, there are, no doubt, layers of symbolism to explore for anyone wishing to dive and drive further beneath the surface.
The many relationships between and among the characters shift and, ultimately, make sense. The play demands that the performers adapt and so, too, must the audience. This is anything but shy, easy theater. Rather, it is full sensory experience provided by a gifted writer.
Good Goods continues at New Haven's Yale Repertory Theatre through February 25th. For tickets, call (203) 432-1234 or visit www.yalerep.org.
- Fred Sokol