|Angela Lewis and Clifton Duncan |
© Joan Marcus, 2012
By Lauren Yarger
"What was that about?" seemed to be the main question theatergoers were asking after experiencing Christina Anderson's play Good Goods receiving its world premiere at Yale Repertory, Well, it's about a family dry goods store, a mysterious factory town, finding love, finding sexual identity, and oh, yeah, possession and excorcism. It's almost enough to make your head spin (pun intended).
Anderson starts off with an intriguing premise: Comedy entertainer Stacey Good (Clifton Duncan) returns to his roots in "a small town/village that doesn't appear on any map" to run the dry goods store "Good Goods" left to him by his father. Attached to the store, through a legal clause in the documents tranferring the property, is Truth (Marc Damon Johnson) who has worked there since he was a young boy. Stacey reconnects with Wire (Kyle Beltran), the twin brother of his comedy partner and romantic interest, Patricia (De'Adre Aziza), with whom he has been performing for 10 years. Truth, who feels cheated out of the store, isn't happy about the turn of events until Patricia shows up bringing along Sunny (Angela Lewis), a vivacious young traveler she met on the bus. For Truth it is love at first sight and he asks Patricia for her help in wooing the young girl.
Romantic pursuits and a birthday party planned for the twins are put on hold, however, when a tragedy occurs at the pencil factory, which looms over the town since an unanamed "invasion" took place. (James Schuettte meticulously designs the dry goods store topped by a pair of smoke stacks representing the factory).The death of a factory worker, one of the mysterious Evans clan which lives on the other side of tracks and strikes terror in the hearts of residents, sets into motion unexpected events.
Those happenings, including a possession of Sunny's soul by the dead pencil factory worker, constitute one of the biggest implosions of a play during the second act ever witnessed on stage. While Lewis is stunning in her head-spinning switches between joy-bursting Sunny and foul-mouthed factory worker, the story loses credibility and even a director with as much talent as Tina Landau, can't provide the holy water needed to rid it of its demons. (We wonder how Landau didn't suggest, upon reading the script, that it is in some serious needs of development before a stage version will work).
The possession storyline seems more "Saturday Night Live" meets "The Exorcist" than serious drama. After restraining a screaming, violent Sunny, characters sit around catching up, having petty arguments and trying to figure out how hey will pay for an excorcist.
They hire Waymon (Oberon K.A. Adjepong), but you have to wonder if he is the best choice -- he tells the possessed creature to "shh" and is himself housing the spirit of Evans' ancestor Hunter Priestess. Highlights here are the lighting and sound effects designed by Scott Zielinski and Junghoon Pi.
Meanwhile, both Patricia and Stacey discover they are gay and hook up with Sunny and Wire. Heads definitely were spinning during this disjointed second act which seemed to have very little connection with the first. A quick read of the program, which features an interview between Landau and Anderson, might provide some incite into what the playwright hoped to accomplish. Apparently Anderson's inspiration for the play came while she was a student at Yale when she read reports of a real-life possession. She also wanted to incorporate some feelings about musicians, explore "queer relationships" and present the Black American culture through time.
Let's just say that Anderson might have understood all of that, but none of it translates on the stage. The time, for example, during which the play is set, is listed in the program as "1961 and 1994. And everything in between. Time is layered, stacked, mixed, and matched." Never once do we feel we are in 1961 (a date significant because the song Wang Dand Doodle came out that year?), however, or in 1994 (the date of the real-life possession). Costumes (Toni-Leslie James, design) are generic (and many of the cast end up changing into a simple white collared shirt borrowed from Stacey's collection of them under his bed...). We also don't feel that time is anything but linear or that we are exploring any of the broader themes mentioned. In this case, time and meaning are in a quark known only in the playwright's mind.
Good Goods runs through Feb. 25 at Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven. Tickets are $20 to $88 available in person, by calling 203-432-1234 or by visiting www.yalerep.org.