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Theatre Review by Howard Miller - October 11, 2018

Amanda Sykes and Raife Baker
Photo by Carol Rosegg

There is definitely no honor among thieves in J. C. Ernst's Goodbody, a pitch dark comedy about a quartet of double-crossing thugs opening tonight at 59E59 Theaters.

Well, technically, it's a quintet, if you count Burt, who is shot to death in the play's opening moments and whose body lies slumped in the corner throughout the 100-minute production. Inspired by the ├╝berviolent absurdity conjured by the likes of Martin McDonagh and Quentin Tarantino, Goodbody gets the macabre humor just right, with very funny dialog throughout. It also keeps the tension high, though that part is a bit of a cheat since it relies heavily on the presence of loaded and aimed firearms, implements of torture, and plenty of stage blood. And since this all unfolds no more than a few feet from the audience in one of 59E59's smaller performance spaces, anyone who is even remotely squeamish should take this as a trigger warning, in every sense of the word 'trigger.'

Goodbody takes place in a barn, realistically rendered by Matthew D. McCarren, who is also responsible for the atmospheric lighting. We are in upstate New York, somewhere near the Canadian border, where a man, Spencer (Raife Baker), and a woman, Marla (Amanda Sykes) are holed up, apparently on the run. It is Marla who has fired the fatal shot, though she suffers from a kind of situational amnesia and cannot remember what she has done, where she is, or how she got there. For answers, she has to rely on Spencer, who is sitting on a chair, covered in blood and trussed up in makeshift bandages of rags and duct tape.

And so unfolds a twisted tale, narrated by the self-serving and unreliable Spencer, of the theft of a great deal of money, a love affair, and a desperate plan of escaping from Chance (Dustin Charles), the murderous brother of the dead man from whose gambling establishment the money has been stolen. Chance doesn't show up until late in the play, having rushed back from his honeymoon in Miami, but before his arrival, Marla and Spencer are joined by Aimes (Alex Morf), also known as 'Twinks,' an unflattering high school nickname that has stuck. Aimes is a crooked and easily intimated cop who works for Chance and is connected with the theft.

The play's humor comes out in the banter among the characters. Spencer, in particular, doesn't seem to know when to keep his mouth shut, despite his vulnerable position, and he continuously goads the gun-waving Aimes as if they were still teenagers. The two men play their roles well, both in terms of acting and as characters who have known each other for a long time and cannot avoid falling into their established patterns. But it is Amanda Sykes as Marla who stands out above the guys by giving us a woman who is funny, scary, unpredictable, and truly dangerous, often all at once.

A ghoulish ending pushes the play beyond the limits of its own internal credibility. But J. C. Ernst, the writer, who also is the artistic director of the Crook Theater Company that has produced the work, has a way with dialog that mostly keeps the edgy gangster saga within the realm of its gallows humor origins. The acting under Melissa Firlit's direction is of a very high caliber, and if you have an appreciation for the dark side of quirky comedy and don't mind the gore and off-color language, it's well worth the visit.

Through November 4
59E59 Theater C, 59 East 59th Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral