by JK Clarke
Fans of Alfred Hitchcock will tell you that the most terrifying of his thrillers are also the funniest. There’s something about mixing mystery and murder with absurdity that brings out the extremes in both. The funny is funnier and the creepiness is more unnerving. Such is the case with The Crook Theater Company’s Goodbody , a screwball murder caper playing at 59E59 Theaters through November 4.
Cleverly penned by J.C. Ernst and directed by Melissa Firlit, Goodbody starts off with a thrill by bringing the audience out of the dark in the same way you’d wake up after having passed out: suddenly there is light . . . and an incomprehensible tableau. And this exactly what the two characters on stage are experiencing. The are seemingly coming to in the midst of chaos, blood and gore.
As the lights come up on the interior of a barn in upstate, rural New York, Marla (a very comical Amanda Sykes) is standing on a table holding a gun that’s just been fired. Spencer (Raife Baker), who looks like a cross between a Williamsburg hipster and an alt-right agitator, is duct taped to a chair, blood oozing from various parts of his body; his face is battered, and there appears to be a small chunk of flesh missing from the side of his head; one hand taped so heavily as to immobilize his (probably broken) fingers; a workbench is covered with what have now become tools of torture. And then there’s the corpse in the corner.
We have no idea how we, or they, got there. Or why. And neither does Marla. “Oh my god . . . What happened?” she gasps. Spencer is absolutely bewildered. The monster before him, the person responsible for the all the violent destruction, has selective amnesia and that makes him even more frightened. She doesn’t know who he is (they’re lovers) nor what has just taken place. Matthew D. McCarren’s moody lighting and set heightens the tension, making the scene all the more believable and frightening.
Press materials compare Goodbody to a Quentin Tarantino-style gangster flick, and there are some elements—the relentless foul-language, including countless uses of the “C,” “F” and a few other choice letter words—that hearken films like Reservoir Dogs; and one character, Chance (Dustin Charles) bears a striking resemblance to Michael Penn in that film. But it’s more evocative of Hitchcock’s absurdist films like The Trouble With Harry or Rope).
The plot unwinds as a discovery process, with Spencer pleading for his life— unnecessarily as it turns out, for the version of Marla we see is a naïve, self-effacing and sweet girl from Gary, Indiana (not Louisiana, Paris, France or Rome). Then when another local boy, Aimes (a terrific Alex Morf) shows up, even more is revealed. They all know each other, are friends and lovers in this small town in upstate New York, and work in an illegal gambling den. Aimes is Richie Cunningham as schlemiel, a bumbling cop on the take, whom everyone calls “Twinkie” because of some unfortunate interactions he had as a teen with a box of the snack cakes.
The story unfolds with twists and turns before a somewhat surprising and very satisfying denouement. It’s meant to a be a goofy bad-guy story that’s escapist theater at its best. Best of all Goodbody has little to do with any current events or politics. It provides a lot of laughs mixed with the tension and danger of a story about crazy, murderous losers. And that’s not only just fine, but a very welcome and necessary relief.
Goodbody. Through November 4 at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison).1 hr 40 minutes, no intermission. www.59e59.org
Photos: Carol Rosegg