By Sarah Downs
What do you get when two or more Millennials gather? Absurdity and angst, apparently. In Not Even the Good Things six 20-somethings go for a weekend in the mountains, but instead of “Big Chill” they end up with more “Big Buzzkill” as the weekend blows up, leaving no-one unscathed.
Bill (Sea McHale) and Grace (Victoria Janicki), a mismatched couple if there ever was one, are first to arrive at the weekend cabin. Grace is ecstatic about it all — the trees, the birds, the house, the fireplace, the gin drinks, electricity, oxygen — pretty much anything she lays her very drunk eyes on. This first scene drags a little, as the writing barrels over the same territory again and again. Grace advances; Bill retreats. She comes on to him; he is uncomfortable. She rejects him; he is bewildered. Maybe it is the consistently loud volume that begins to wear us down. Janicki, though an excellent actress, goes overboard in her portrayal of Grace’s inebriation. With stronger direction, Janicki could get much more with less. It doesn’t help that Joseph Scott Ford‘s writing belabors the point. Yes, Ok, Grace is hammered. We get it.
Janicki shines in her dramatic scenes, making some sense of Grace’s erratic behavior. With her bottomless well of anger and insecurity, Grace lashes out in all directions. She is hell bent on self-annihilation and she’s not going down without a fight. McHale is excellent as the sensitive boyfriend dealing with his own issues. Bill has enough on his plate trying to manage the conflict between sex and his now abandoned Christianity, among other things. Now he has to clean up the debris his crazy girlfriend is leaving in her wake. On top of it all he starts seeing this ghostly figure of a young girl (a very sweet, waif-like Serena Parrish). All dirty knees and hollow eyes, The Girl exposes the undercurrent of impending disaster that drives much of the action.
The second couple appears. Again, a mismatch, Donald (Mickey Roberts) is a glad-handing flirt while Jackie (Allie Trimm) is more thoughtful, given to panic attacks. Roberts has a natural ease that fills the stage with much needed anti-angst. Donald doesn’t sweat much because Donald is all about Donald. He betrays Jackie within minutes of their arrival. As Jackie, Allie Trimm easily conveys both Jackie’s anguish and, in a particularly tender scene late in the play, the quiet depth of her philosophical insight
Enter the third couple – delightfully hippy-dippy Gina (Collette Astle) and her equally faux zen friend Terrence (Stephon Pettway), who charm even as they spout the hackneyed epigrams of self-actualization. Astle, with her big smile and natural warmth endows the groovitude with some gravitas. Both Pettway and Astle add much-needed comic relief to a fraught evening, leavening the burdensome, at times self-indulgent writing. With refreshing irony, it turns out the two with their heads in the clouds are the ones with their feet most steadfastly on the ground.
There are many fine moments in this play, but after much hit and miss, the narrative doesn’t fully cohere, despite the best efforts of a talented cast. Presented as a tale of self discovery, Not Even the Good Things is, as the author describes it, “a funny play except when it isn’t and a sad play, except that it’s not.” I don’t know that I agree entirely, but I applaud the effort.
NOT EVEN THE GOOD THINGS, by Joseph Scott Ford, directed by Kelsey Claire, with Collette Astle, Victoria Janicki, Sea McHale, Serena Parrish, Stephon Pettway, Mickey Roberts and Allie Trimm. Costume design by Oscar Noel Fitzpatrick, lighting design by Alexander Le Vaillant Freer.
Runs July 16th – 27th at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd St.); schedule as follows: Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8PM. Tuesday, July 16th at 7PM. ASL performance on Saturday, July 20th at 3pm and a Sunday matinee on July 21st at 3 PM. Tickets $35, For tickets and further information visit noteventhegoodthings.com, or call (212) 239-6200. Run time 75 minutes, no intermission.