By Cameron Hughes
The excellent “No Good Things Dwell in the Flesh” is playing at the Off-Off-Broadway A.R.T /New York Theatres until September 23rd. This is a memorable show which easily holds its own against – and bests – many Off-Broadway productions.
“No Good Things Dwell in the Flesh” tells the story of 64-year-old Agata (Kellie Overbey), a master tailor from Latvia and former citizen of the Soviet Union, who came to the States when the USSR collapsed. We see the struggles she’s endured being an immigrant starting a tailor shop in Queens, and are awed by the expert craftsperson/artist she has become.
30-year-old Janice (Carmen Zilles) is her assistant. Agata hopes Janice will someday, maybe before long, take over the shop so Agata can retire. But Janice isn’t sure as aspects of her personal life evolve.
The third primary figure is Vlad (Ryder Smith), Agata’s ex-lover, who drifts in and out burdening Agata with his emotional baggage.
Much of the play is told as a straight-forward narrative, but there are moments where the mood shifts and we realize we’re seeing a past memory, or are witnessing internal monologues.
Often segments like that can be jarring, pulling you out of a show’s flow. But here the writing by Christina Masciotti and direction by Rory McGregor are so deft, even the more surreal moments arise naturally and organically from the show’s rhythms. They pull you in and inform, giving the play added depth.
Outstanding in the cast is Kellie Overbey who’s simply masterful as Agatha. Her accent is rich and convincing, and her physicality, body language, and expressions are true and seemingly effortless. This is a performance I won’t soon forget. Overbey plays the full journey of Agata’s life and fleshes out the many layers of her character with absolute conviction in a performance which alone is worth the price of admission.
Carmen Zilles, though less experienced, impresses in her portrayal of youthful uncertainty. There’s a scene where she has a panic attack which is chillingly spot-on; how Zilles doesn’t pass out from the apparent hyperventilating is a wonder. The struggles she gives Janice are heartfelt and palpable.
Also dynamic is Ryder Smith. He plays a broad range of emotions and moods, and the ways he expresses them are exceptional. This is a meaty (and harrowing, and raw) role, a character who goes through many transformations at different stages, and Smith sets each moment apart with dimensionality and convincing nuance. During one scene, portraying the younger Vlad, I thought he might be a different actor, so complete is the transformation.
Kudos must also be given to Jeffrey Brabant and Megan Lomax who play various characters. Each actor is grounded and convincing, finding subtle but thoughtful mannerisms for their parts to individualize them.
“No Good Things Dwell in the Flesh” is thought-provoking, tender, economical, at times funny, sometimes sad, poignant, and always accessible and engaging. Based on a woman Masciotti knew in life, every word from Agata rings true.
Also worth noting is the perfectly dressed, effective set depicting the tailor shop, and the lighting which is well placed and evocative.
Complaints are few and minor. At times some of the quieter dialogue gets lost in this intimate black-box theater, and twice there seemed to be problems with the recorded music which cut out momentarily. However, this being a preview show, the issues will no doubt be addressed before opening night Sunday 9/10.
I hope this show lives beyond its initial run, it deserves to be seen by a wider audience.
The creative team for No Good Things Dwell in the Flesh includes: Christina Masciotti (playwright), Rory McGregor (director), Brendan Gonzales Boston (scenic design), Johanna Pan (costume design), Stacey Derosier (lighting design), Brian Hickey (sound design), Nat Kelley DiMario (production stage manager), Alexandre Bleau (casting director), and Charmian Hoare (dialect coach)
No Good Things Dwell in the Flesh runs September 6–23, 2023, at The Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre at A.R.T /New York Theatres, located at 502 W 53rd St in Manhattan. The performance schedule is Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 5pm. Running time is 1hr 45min with no intermission. Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased HERE.