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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Trying to Gussying Up a Sad Drama

The Good Girl is Gone
Anne Petersen and Jim Ligon
Lulu has left her doctor husband and checked into a shabby motel room. Lulu is in bad emotional shape, drinking from a bottle of whisky as she awaits the arrival of her mother Ellie, whom she has contacted and asked to meet her there. Lulu has not seen her mother since Ellie deserted her, her father and sister Ginny ten years earlier to run off with a younger man. Much of the play takes place in the mind of Lulu as she thinks back to Ellie’s departure and relevant events in her life leading up to and following it. Eventually, mom will arrive for a confrontation which is meant to provide closure for Lulu and the viewer.

In her new play The Good Girl is Gone, playwright D. W. Gregory has not provided the elements which are needed to bring vitality, interest and believability to this standard issue drama. Thus, the play just sort of peters out. Yes, Lulu is shown as emotionally strengthened and ready to go her own way at the final curtain. Yet nothing of substance in her confrontation with Ellie explains her new found strength. I’m certain D. W. Gregory could give us a cogent explanation of what she had in mind. However, it is not revealed on stage.

Playwright D. W. Gregory and director John Pietrowski try to enliven and bring originality to matters at hand with some broad vaudeville style comedy which is largely limited to Lulu's father and her husband Steve. However, both the writing and direction here are forced and unfunny, only serving to muddle Papa and Steve’s characterizations. We see them (as well as Lulu’s younger sister Ginny and Ellie’s lover Wayne) through Lulu’s memories. The unrealistic, exaggerated style of their material and its performance is such that the only explanation for it is that her flustered mind is distorting the reality of their behaviors. Ellie, Lulu and Wayne are never played in exaggerated vaudevillian style. Steve is never portrayed in any other mode. Her father is often played dramatically, but he’s always in danger of going over the top. This could well be the manner in which actor and director carry over the comic conception of the role in moments when his actions and responses are anything but comic.

We are left without an identifiable person to relate to in the case of Steve. We are also left with some confusion as to just how awful a parent Papa is. We are told that Ginny overcomes all through her devotion to her studies and is on the track to happiness and success, but this is never dramatized. As to Gregory’s portraits of the main protagonists, only one is successful.

Although the unrecalcitrant, self-centered Ellie is clearly monstrous in her treatment of her daughters (she has them pack for her as she prepares their abandonment), Gregory clearly admires her for leaving her loveless marriage to a boring clod to find happiness where her libido has taken her. While she doesn’t flinch from portraying Ellie’s faults, I can hear the feminist in Gregory admiringly saying, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” In the scenes set ten years in the past, Beth Glover portrays Ellie with a nervous drive born out of desperation and hope. During her confrontation with Lulu, Glover performs with an insouciant, self-satisfied, unapologetic joyfulness which perfectly reflects Ellie, whatever one might think of her. She just doesn’t care what Lulu or anyone else thinks of her. Easily, the evening’s best work.

As noted earlier, Lulu is written inconsistently and, ultimately, is unbelievable. Anne Peterson does good work moment by moment, but, in the end, she is left high and dry by her playwright.

Jim Ligon seems to do good work with the difficult, schizophrenic role of Papa. Anne Popolizio makes the most of her opportunities as Ginny. Jake Speck has the poorly written and directed role of Lulu’s mindless, pill-popper husband, Steve. However, Speck must shoulder the blame for displaying no comic dexterity. Speck also plays the brief role of Ellie’s hot young lover.

There are some individual passages which stand out, including a particularly heart wrenching scene in which Lulu draws Ginny into the fantasies which she employs to ease the pain of being deserted by her mother. After telling Ginny that she could have left with their mother and Wayne, but she stayed behind to care for her, Lulu forces Ginny to repeat over and over that their mother is upstairs taking a nap. The studious and more mature younger sister is pulled from her own moorings by the painful desperation of the elder. Imaginative, unhackneyed, and believable, this sequence reminds us of what Gregory (and Pietrowski) might have delivered. Gregory also uses her structure to save some surprises for the end. These surprises relate to the reason why Lulu has sought out Ellie. This is dramaturgically sound. It is unfortunate that it is as difficult to believe the set-up as it is to believe Lulu’s handling of the situation and what she is portrayed as deriving from it. Although there are clear differences in their circumstances, Lulu is repeating her mother’s behavior in leaving her own clod of a husband. Certainly, in her case, The Good Girl is Gone, and Gregory makes it clear that men who disregard this fact do it at their own peril.

John Pietrowski’s direction magnifies the play’s weaknesses. On the other hand, Pietrowski does get a couple of big dramatic scenes very right. Richard Turick’s set is divided in half with the motel room at stage left, and the equally squalid eat-in kitchen of her poor, working class parental home at stage right. The back walls have jagged, triangular tops in keeping with the bizarrely absurd comic aspects of the script. There are several short scenes at various other locations that Lulu recalls, and they are staged far down stage to the front of the motel room and are simply delineated visually by the lighting plot.

Maybe, with sharper direction and a reworked script, The Good Girl is Gone will reveal more strength in subsequent productions. However, in its world premiere production in Madison, it is essentially dull and inconsistent.

The Good Girl is Gone continues performances (Thurs.: 2/9 - 5:30p.m.;2/16-3&8p.m./ Fri. & Sat. 8p.m./ Sun.3p.m.) through February 19, 2006 at Playwrights’ Theatre, 33 Green Village Road, Madison, NJ, 07940; Box Office: 973-514-1787 ext. 30; online: www.ptnj.org.

The Good Girl is Gone by D.W. Gregory; directed by John Pietrowski

Cast
Ellie……………..Beth Glover
Papa………………….Jim Ligon
Lulu………….Anne Petersen
Ginny…………Anne Popolizo
Steve/Wayne……….Jake Speck


Photo: Carol Rosegg


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- Bob Rendell



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