The Good Girl: A Futuristic Time Warp Into The Present
by Carole Di Tosti
The Good Girl, written by Emilie Collyer, directed by Adam Fitzgerald and presented by Joyseekers Theatre, slyly, ineluctably moves toward an inevitable conclusion after manifesting trenchant themes about human nature’s best and worst traits—i.e. the ability to love and strive for a better future and the inability to discern or halt self-destructive impulses like obsession and greed. If this sounds like the equivalent of modern man and woman’s current behavioral evolution, it is; but mitigated by Emilie Collyer’s fine characterizations, cagey plot developments that sport surprising twists, and crisp, humorous dialogue.
Imagine a future where human beings are provided with robots whom they direct and control to service their own needs and desires. Imagine a sexbot programmed to gratify one’s wildest sexual fantasies, dark impulses, emotional yearnings on a grand scale for many paying clients. Imagine a passive female robot that sexually satisfies both men and women and imagine the added caveat that the social cultural context forbids robots to be programmed for emotion . . . A perfect combination!
Now, imagine that the culture’s justice system punishes humans who seek and display emotions and impulses that are compulsive, personal and pleasurable, precisely because such emotions lead to self-destruction on an individual or massive scale. Imagine the punishment for such a violation is swift, immediate and inexorable. Imagine such emotional self-destruction is the only way to escape the boring routine of an enslaved, “cog-in-the-wheel” life as a minion in a society where “the select” live a leisure-filled life of beauty, grace and luxury.
The constructs of this dystopian “future” culture relay Collyer’s intriguing conflict set-up. The cultural restrictions and social roles of the characters are brilliantly disclosed, plot-point by plot-point, through the head-to-head, increasingly scaled-up confrontations between Anjali (Leah Gabriel tweaks her fine performance to incrementally draw you to empathize with her, despite her brusque, hard, outer shell) and bot serviceman, Ven (Giacomo Baessato is her boyish, emotionally wide-open, ingenuous, counterpart).
Fitzgerald’s direction is taut, spare and kills. He shepherds Gabriel and Baessato so that each scene moves like a seesaw in which the characters strive toward perfect balance but inevitably fail. As their power dynamics tilt to throw one high in the air while the one on the ground controls, another moment erupts and the opposite character flies into the air while the other crashes to ground control. Only at the end do they achieve consensus and balance, and it is the height of irony because they will have to risk everything. And chances are they will lose.
The reason why the relationship dynamics are believable is because Collyer lets out just enough information in the dialogue between Anjali and Ven to keep us guessing— she lures us to engagement. Her spare writing has increased the stakes between the characters and the actors’ commitment to their roles and enhances our emotional impact so that we identify with them. We see the extent to which Ven and Anjali are compelled and compel each other to violate and exceed the cultural restrictions. They willingly break the “laws” of social behavior and advance themselves in a cooperative quid pro quo for business purposes and for an emotional entanglement— perhaps love or, at the least, a bonded companionship. We understand Anjail and Ven in our bones. Are we as courageous or foolhardy as they to dare to “buck the system,” an economic system that appears unjust and not unlike our own?
Fitzgerald understands the beats that Collyer’s finely tuned script subtly promotes. And as the beats of each scene ratchet up the emotional relationship between the characters as they attempt to navigate the tides of push-and-pull in their growing forbidden interest in each other, we are mesmerized. Collyer’s play with the expert acting and direction keeps us off-balance, riding the seesaw with the characters, tense for the next moments of revelation yet anticipating an outcome which will probably not end well.
With the ironic selection of music, stark lighting effects, fine use of space, and the homely designation of set, The Good Girl will not easily leave you. Its thematic elements strike at the heart of modern culture and social behavior even to the signature song which accompanies one out the door of the theater. It is a particularly annoying, happy-go-lucky version of “Singing in the Rain,” which becomes a menacing reminder of what we have at stake in our personal lives and as social and cultural beings.
The Good Girl. Through February 28 at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). www.59e59.org
*Photos by Lloyd Mulvey