If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
“Good Goods”, a Premiere at Yale Rep
Playwright Christina Anderson and her world premiere play at the Yale Repertory Theatre, “Good Goods.” owes no small debt to the works of August Wilson. This overstuffed mystical drama with an all African-American cast is certainly not lacking for plot. Whether it all adds up to very much by curtain, however, is another question. It continues in New Haven through this weekend.
Set in “a small town/village that doesn’t appear on any map” between the years of “1961 and 1994” (according to program notes), Ms. Anderson also tells us that time here is “layered, stacked, mixed, and matched.” Okay, if you say so. The scenic design at Yale is an impressive one. James Schuette’s general store setting -- the Good Goods of the title -- is beautifully detailed from top to bottom and side to side. It is here that Stacey has returned to run the business for his father who, we learn, is currently missing. Truth, slightly older than Stacey and full of resentment, has been running the store in his absence. In the long, rather draggy first act we discover that Stacey was once part of a musical/comedy act with Patricia, who shortly arrives on the scene with Sunny, a rambunctious new girlfriend in tow.
The extensive exposition in Act One drops several hints but still makes one wonder just where this play is going. There is a factory in town that isn’t treating its employees right, much talk about a mysterious “invasion” that took place and personal back stories of the characters that dabble in homosexuality and mysticism. By the second act a full-fledged exorcism is underway and all hell breaks loose. It is here that we meet Waymon, an exorcist of sorts, who is channeling someone called the Hunter Priestess. At least, I think he is. A play like “Good Goods” will not disappoint those who like a lot of meat on their bones.
What works terrifically well in this flawed but ambitious play is its excellent cast who are never less than fully committed to their roles. Chief among these is Angela Lewis who plays the bubbly, love struck Sunny in Act One before becoming possessed by a foul-mouthed demon in the second. Ms. Lewis literally throws herself into the role and deserves plaudits for sheer stamina if nothing else. Marc Damon Johnson, Clifton Duncan, Kyle Beltran, De'Adre Aziza and Oberon K.A. Adjepong complete the solid company of actors under the expert direction of Tina Landau. Credit also Junghoon Pi’s spooky sound design and Scott Zielinski’s lighting.
But the overstuffed yet uncooked stew that is “Good Goods” doesn’t ever really coalesce into coherent storytelling. It’s not the fantastical elements that distract but the odd blend of the naturalistic and magical realism that -- unlike the plays of August Wilson -- never truly convinces.
“Good Goods” continues at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven through February 25. For further information and ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.