Why would an art history major with an Ivy League degree want to help clean up New York City? Literally, become a sanitation worker and pick up trash bags off the street. And how is she going to cope with a partner who chatters endlessly and advises her to “read the bags”?
In The Garbologists, playwright Lindsay Joelle tweaks the classic buddy formula by focusing on how a pair of individuals, quite different from each other – gender, class, race – find a connection with one another amidst dealing with their own personal problems while disposing of other people’s trash. Bulldog Ensemble Theater’s production initiates the new Mettlesome Theater in Durham with this off-beat drama-comedy about a group of essential workers rarely given much attention.
Marlowe (Lauren Foster-Lee) aced the required tests for the job and has been assigned to ride with Danny (Sean A. Brosnahan), a nine-year veteran. She is Black, smart, and reserved, and she is just focused on doing her job. Danny is white, blue-collar, and eager to impart his sage wisdom about the job. Each time he attempts to awkwardly bridge the gap, she pushes back, leary of his motives. Expressions of wariness and distaste are frequently exchanged between the pair. From the outset, the trajectory of the relationship seems to point downward.
Over the course of almost 90 minutes, this odd couple bicker and banter as Danny insists on mansplaining and Marlowe asserts her position. Clearly, both have things to prove to the other.
As directed by Marshall Botvinick, Brosnahan and Foster-Lee effectively display the initial tension and animosity that ever so gradually, and grudgingly, evolves into an understanding bordering on friendship. Both hide a great deal of pain, knowing that revelation leads to vulnerability. And yet, they can’t connect until they can drop their shields.
Creative set design by Joshua W. Martin and Abigail Kuchar makes fine use of the intimate space with a rendition of the cab and incinerator of a 19-ton sanitation truck along with the variety of detritus often found along the route. Erin Bell’s lighting conveys time changes although there were some problems with lights flickering from time to time. Faith Abi Haydar’s sound design adds to the feeling of being on a city street but could have been more clearly projected. Hopefully, the acoustics will improve which will also help in the projection of the performers.
Joelle’s script clearly signals its intention of calling attention to these essential workers. Her two-hander also deftly interrogates how individual perceptions of others prevent connection and that seeing past the outward differences creates the path to common decency and respect for one another.
The Garbologists runs through November 13. For more information visit https://www.bulldogdurham.org/.
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