Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

The Garbologists
TheaterWorks Hartford
Review by Fred Sokol

Also see Fred's review of Simona's Search

Bebe Nicole Simpson and Jeff Brooks
Photo by Mike Marques
The Garbologiststhrusts itself upon its audience with invigorating trash taking as well as audacious trash talking. At TheaterWorks in Hartford through February 25, Lindsay Joelle's play mixes laugh-out-loud comedy with personal and penetrating revelation.

Director Rob Ruggiero maximizes heartfelt, mood-shifting performances by Jeff Brooks and Bebe Nicole Simpson. Brooks plays Danny, a white working class tough-on-the-outside New Yorker who has been collecting garbage for nine years. His personal life is broken and he's hurting, needy–he will ramble on nonstop given the opportunity. To say this guy is rough around the edges seriously understates his look. Simpson's character, Marlowe, is a well-educated woman currently living with her parents in Brooklyn Heights. She went to Columbia University and art history was her concentration.

Marlowe insists, as she begins day number one on the route, that she alone can hoist multiple black bags into the truck without any help. She pushes Danny away when he offers to assist. Call it lowbrow humor and throw in irony as well. These two appear to be setting up for a lengthy battle. It is not nearly so simplistic as each harbors a difficult past and the playwright, without pronouncement, carefully weaves in themes surrounding loss and loneliness.

Joelle pits these contentious souls against one another within a literal framework, which is quite stunning. Designer Marcelo Martínez García's creative garbage settings jump out at audience members, all of whom are close to the TheaterWorks stage. When the action begins, the odd duo sit upon seats in a bulky Mack garbage truck that faces the audience. Trash surrounds them and the performance space is extended by concrete and brick walls on either side. It's all quite arresting.

During the first portion of the play one cannot help but question why Marlowe, with her university degrees, could possibly seek a spot on the sanitation roster. Danny at first mispronounces her name and dubs her "Shakespeare," providing a couple of lines from Hamlet. He talks and talks and talks while tautly wound Marlowe is hellbent on proving she can do the work.

Then there's "mongo." That's the word for a precious type of item which might be hidden amongst trash. The two rivals seek to outdo one another and score one of the obliterated jewels. This is just absurd, winning fun.

I suppose it's predictable that these individuals will find a deeper meaning and camaraderie between them. As the scripting unveils and the show heads in that direction, it all feels inviting, even if that formula is not a new one. Joelle's dialogue is (except for a very few moments) catchy and earnest. This production evolves as Danny and Marlowe shed exterior layers to disclose humans whose worlds overlap.

Brooks and Simpson, as they unmask Danny and Marlowe, demonstrate precise timing. The moment-to-moment acting (continuous for the hour and a half, aside from swift scene interludes) is as affecting as it is impressive. Brooks has credits on a number of nationally touring shows while Simpson was seen on Broadway in Camelot. Director Ruggiero has his actors extremely well synchronized.

Playwright Joelle now lives in Tucson, Arizona, while she received her higher education degrees at Columbia and Hunter in New York. It's fair to say that she captures the beat of the urban sanitation scene precisely. Her playbill notes for this show explain that she talked with people collecting garbage from various places in this country–these "essential workers." Joelle is an award-winning writer who fuels The Garbologists with drive, wit and touch. Her characters try, at first, to be stoic. Beneath it all, however, Danny and Marlowe shield delicate, vulnerable souls.

The Garbologists runs through February 25, 2024, at TheaterWorks Hartford, 233 Pearl St., Hartford CT. For tickets and information, please call 860-527-7838 or visit