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Goodbody

Either an homage or a satire, this new play by J.C. Ernst traffics in the madcap violence of Martin McDonaugh and Quentin Tarrantino.

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Raife Baker and Amanda Sykes in a scene from “Goodbody” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

David Kaufman

David Kaufman, Critic

It’s hard to say whether Goodbody is an homage to, or a satire on, the works of Martin McDonaugh and Quentin Tarrantino. But as with that playwright and that film director, this new play by J.C. Ernst traffics in madcap violence.

How else to describe a play that begins with one female character pointing a gun at a sack of a man lying on the floor, while another man is tied to a chair, with one of his arms duct-taped across his chest and a bloodied leg. That would be Marla (Amanda Sykes) and Spencer (Raife Baker). To add that the gun-wielding Marla claims to have no memory of pulling the trigger or why she shot someone, only adds to the opening suspense of Goodbody, a play which immediately spins out of control and never really answers some of the questions or situations it posits.

But then, Marla claims to have no idea who Spencer is, even though he reveals that she’s slept with him a number of times. Marla’s amnesia serves as a clever, opening gambit for playwright Ernst to establish the background to the circumstances that unfold, no matter how muddied some of them remain, in the end.

Set in a barn in Upstate New York (with a tiny hayloft, the menacing set has been designed by Matthew D. McCarren, who also lights it with, dark ominous effects), the galloping plot thickens when Spencer’s childhood friend Aimes arrives. Marla, it turns out, is Aimes’s girlfriend. He is also a would-be tough, “dirty cop,” whose real work with licensing permits hints at his soft underbelly, nicely conveyed by Alex Morf, giving the strongest–if softest–performance of the evening.

Dustin Charles and Alex Morf in a scene from “Goodbody” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

It’s Spencer who tells Marla that Chance and Burt O’Leary, a pair of Irish thugs, are not only “after” her but also “own the police.” So much of what transpires is based on corruption: of the four characters we meet and the others we only hear about, no one seems to be innocent of anything.

The three of them are further threatened when Chance (Dustin Charles), one of those Irish brothers, shows up and proves to be the most sinister of all–especially when he discovers that the corpse on the floor is his brother Burt, who owned a casino involving a heist. It’s harder to say who stole the money or who has it now. And by the time it’s over, it’s hard to avoid feeling that Marla’s amnesia is contagious.

From its dramatic opening, there’s nowhere for Goodbody to go but down, even if Ernst keeps raising the stakes with complicated backstories and developments that leave one breathlessly confused. The production, however, is a good one, with rapid-fire direction by Melissa Firlit, the aforementioned set and lighting by McCarren, the apt and pertinent costumes by Dan Morrison, fight choreography by Cliff Williams III, and a strong ensemble performance, all in the tiny Theater C space at 59E59 Theaters.

Goodbody (through November 4, 2018)

The Crook Theater Company

Theater C at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.59e59.org

Running time: one hour and 40 minutes without an intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

David Kaufman
About David Kaufman (88 Articles)
David Kaufman has been covering the theater in New York since 1981. A former theater critic for the New York Daily News, he was also a long-time contributor to the Nation, Vanity Fair, the Village Voice and the New York Times. He is also the author of the award-winning Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam, the best-selling Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, and his most recent biography, Some Enchanted Evenings: The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin.

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