A severed head in a canvas bag, gruesome automobile accidents and Oxycontin are elements in playwright Keith Huff’s thoughtful black comedy, Garbageman. After attempting a wacky double murder à la Strangers on a Train, two disaffected loquacious sad sack friends since high school, now in their 30’s, drive to Washington, D.C., and take part in the January 6, 2021, insurrection. Mr. Huff’s well-observed dialogue is often quite funny, his working-class characters are engagingly delineated, and his premise is entertaining.
Unfortunately, Huff the author of the psychological puzzler A Steady Rain in which Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman starred in on Broadway in 2009, and who has written episodes of the television shows Mad Men, House of Cards, American Crime, here exhibits a lack of dramatic construction. After a slack 35 minutes of wayward exposition there is finally some semblance of an actual plot. The lumpy first act lasts an hour and 20 minutes; the tauter second act runs 45 minutes. Together Garbageman’s two acts are a semi-satisfying experience. This is its world premiere so perhaps future incarnations will be more refined. Thankfully, its cast has stamina and delivers terrific performances.
As the bandana wearing Dan Bandana, a psychologically damaged veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who is now a mailroom worker, the physically imposing Kirk Gostkowski brings hilarity and depth. As the spacy sanitation worker Buddy Maple who when high has conversations with the severed head, the wiry Deven Anderson is a dynamic chatterbox. Mr. Gostkowski and Mr. Anderson co-host a podcast, and so they have an infectious practiced comedy team chemistry and convey an The Odd Couple-style vibe as they’re both estranged from their romantic partners in the play.
Director Greg Cicchino’s straightforward staging adeptly mines the piece’s comedy and pathos. When the audience arrives, they’re treated to the sight of scenic designer Richard Hoover’s arresting depiction of Dan Bandana’s ramshackle dwelling surrounded by configurations of concrete blocks and television monitors cryptically playing clips of South Korean shows. We later learn that Bandana watches a lot of South Korean television. Despite their creativity, Mr. Cicchino and Mr. Hoover are negligent in dealing with the show’s numerous scene transitions. These are rendered by the lights dimming and stage crew members clomping around rearranging props and furnishings. It’s all messy, time consuming and takes us out of the world of the play.
Fight choreographer Nick Fondulis’ stylized brawl is a marvelous sequence. Christina Perry’s everyday costume design contains witty flourishes. Lighting designer Michael Abrams and sound designer Greg Russ each bring technical polish to the production. Composer Larry Lange’s score is suitably atmospheric.
Though flawed in execution, Garbageman has its virtues. It relatably
dramatizes the plights of a large segment of the U.S. population through humor and playful shock value. Donald Trump is referred to as “The Guy.” It fitfully succeeds, with its cast doing their best to put it over.
Garbageman (March 17 – April 16, 2022)
Chain Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.chaintheatre.org
Running time: two hours and 20 minutes including one intermission