"Good Goods" at Yale Rep

by David A. Rosenberg

In addition to its contribution to Black History Month, “Good Goods” at New Haven’s Yale Rep has the distinction of incorporating exorcism which, heaven help us, seems to be making a comeback. Playwright Christina Anderson's characters also deal with an uneasy mix of gay issues, prophecies and thwarted careers.

 

A conversation between Anderson and director Tina Landau, as printed in the program, gives a hefty clue. “There are so many themes that the play deals with,” says Landau. “Possession, identity, gender identity but also self-identity.” To which Anderson adds “Spirituality, otherworldliness and love and new beginnings and connections.”

 

Fine, but Anderson, a promising writer, leaps from one to another as if negotiating peaks -- but no valleys. Connective tissue is missing and the evening is a structural mess. We get intimations of curses and an “invasion” of some sort. But these are casual and underdeveloped, lacking hinges to the characters. Anderson revels in unexplained ambiguities, without the necessary hints that make sense of what she’s trying to say.

 

Take that “invasion.” It may refer to historical fact when, in the years following World War I, whites took over black towns. But the playwright doesn’t bother to explain and, indeed, wallows in obscurity, describing the drama’s setting as “a small town/village that doesn’t appear on any map.” Time is given as “1961 and 1994, and everything in between,” though the action seems quite chronological.

 

In a well-stocked general store named Good Goods (designed with terrific detail by James Schuette), Stacey, the store’s present owner, has returned from a gig as one half of a comedy-singing team. He’s greeted by the store manager, Truth, who’s none too happy to see him. Stacey’s performance partner, Patricia, shows up to celebrate her birthday with her twin, Wire. In tow with Patricia is the young Sunny, running away from her impending marriage.

 

The smoke-belching factory behind the store has its own history, something about Ivory, a young woman who had a vision of her legacy’s being wiped out. That strand is given new life when one of Ivory’s relatives dies. Yearning to re-join his clan, the dead man possesses Sunny’s body, leading to a fire and brimstone exorcism conducted by the androgynous Hunter Priestess, Waymon.

 

For all the play’s doses of magic realism, the exorcism, though thrillingly executed, seems tacked on as a literary device. The playwright would do well to study how her Yale Rep predecessor, August Wilson, melded realism and symbolism.

 

Meanwhile, she should thank everyone involved in this first-class production, starting with vigorous direction by Tina Landau. The cast -- Clifton Duncan, De’Adre Aziza, Marc Damon Johnson, Kyle Beltran and Oberon K. A. Adjepong -- is exemplary, topped by Angela Lewis’ hair-raising Sunny. If nothing else, she makes this particular Black History Month memorable.

 

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