The acting in The Good Girl is often frustratingly projected slightly away from the audience and the staging is slightly unbalanced at times. It is worth making that the first line of this review, and getting it out of the way, elsewise it would be a few paragraphs of annoyingly shameless fawning, for the current production of Emilie Collyer’s play, directed by Adam Fitzgerald at 59E59 Theaters, is, in all other respects, a fairly flawless and wholly compelling dramatic experience.
The brief and lean script, which concerns a sex robot owned and profited upon by a young woman who falls into a relationship, sometimes real, sometimes simulated, sometimes ambiguous in its reality, with the robot’s repair man, sounds against a summary absurd and silly, but the writing is tight, suggestive, and increasingly serious. There is humor in The Good Girl, but as the robot in question begins to seemingly develop feelings and the tale reveals the dark release of long repressed impulses, the consequences of said impulses, and the unwieldiness of long untouched emotions, the play goes into a severe direction, raising questions of deep humanity and the morality of the warped id when society provides a means for it to run free and express itself in some kind of real way; for that matter, the play also raises questions of what is real and what is not real. Collyer’s writing is careful and sleek, never overly obvious or didactic, and it allows the story to gradually expose its deeper implications to be mulled over subjectively.
The set design is all uncomfortably familiar; the story may be set in a futuristic dystopia, but the apartment in which all of the action takes place is indistinguishable from one plucked out of our current age. There are shifts in lighting that create a feeling of unreality ballasted by very real emotion. The emotions are all the more striking for manifesting themselves in an arena where they are not allowed to be felt. There are points when the figures of the actors seem to be floating in some construction of hyperspace and this is all done with little elaborate effect but for the lighting.
There are only two actors on stage, Leah Gabriel and Giacomo Baessato, and their performances are utterly genuine in a way that is rarely seen on the stage. The intimate space of 59E59's Theater C allows one to see every detail of their faces and the depth of their acting is revealed at various points by their nostrils and other minute facial realities that make it seem as if they are never actually acting. There are moments of anger and fear that are so very authentic that one watching feels almost like a voyeur and it is all the more engrossing for the surprisingly sensitive and disturbing subject matter.
Under the direction of Mr. Fitzgerald all of these elements come together in the setting of another world and, through these means, The Good Girl forces us to ask questions about our own world; the honest answers to which are ultimately frightening, yet important.