Sep 28

Goodness – Review

by Wil Knoll · 0 comments

You still believe that because a person suffers, they must be good?

With an inverted top of the show, the lights drop to blackout after Scott Olynek takes to the stage at the beginning of Goodness. There is a warm swell of singing from the cast. They take their places in the dark after this slightly jarring but somehow calm transition. From moment one, Downstage’s production of Goodness uses theatrical conventions and honest “stand up and tell the truth” performances in its own way. Goodness builds a singular experience that stands out from formulaic thrillers. You’re never left waiting for the other shoe to drop. You know who drops it. You want them to admit to it.

Characters are aware of their own existence in the writer’s head. Michael Redhill, the playwright, allows his creations to attack and prod him, exposing his own insecurities and the personal hurts he holds onto. It’s not tongue in cheek fourth wall breaking, it’s a bit of an ass kicking.

The characters will not allow Redhill to water down their story into a schmarmy drama. They will not let him bury his demons. He has a job to do and they will hold him to it.

It’s the combination of direction from Downstage’s Simon Mallet and Redhill’s words and eye that create this very detailed experience. In searching for his own personal story, Redhill stumbles into a retelling of a people’s vengeance, the dark history where people needed to reach out and hurt for the hurt that had been done to them. Although it can ride a tense level for long stretches, where you’re hoping for a joke so you can breathe, the story refuses to be told with omission of its truth.

And it has a soupy reality to it. A tension that you can taste, a look real enough you could stir it with you hand. The performances, words, and direction are honest enough that I see the film in my head while I’m watching the show. When Christopher Hunt and Olynek meet in the bar for the first time my mind’s eye does the long slow pan in from the back end of the joint, framing the profiles of the two lit by the window. That’s a complement to the simple staging and light design, created by Neil Fleming. Much like the rest of the production, set and lights use the less is more route, speaking in small details as opposed to loud swaths. It feels like its shot on location, the black box of The Big Secret letting my mind choose architecture from my own memory. A cohesive soundscape comprised almost completely by the ensembles’ own voices completes the experience. Nuance in the score comes from the untouched voices of the cast singing in a haunting and unknown but familiar dialect.

The ensemble really deserves credit for the work they put in. Olynek is genuine, offering no deceptions and speaking right to us. Duval Lang sits in some very crunchy moments, going to dark confused places and never hesitating. Lora Brovold and Simone Saunders paint point and counter point in soft eyes against a set jaw. Valerie Ann Pearson steers the ship with a solid drive and a piercing gaze. Hunt’s well shaped status is belied by the cracks in his facade. The entire cast never throws a moment away. The end result? A heavy burden that one has to walk away with, the burden of understanding, of seeing the dark moments in our own choices.

Goodness is smart. It’s clean. It makes no attempt to be anything more than it is, and in avoiding dishonesty, stands up and demands that we listen. And in that demand is a challenge to observe ourselves. Did we judge? Did we assume a side because of a hurt that aligned? Or did we just lash out?

A strong voice for the opening of Downstage’s Sixth season, Goodness is a must-see.

Goodness
By Michael Redhill
Downstage
The Big Secret Theatre
Runs through Oct 2, 2010

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