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.
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