Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Garbologist - Theaterworks Hartford

Danny, a blue-collar, 9-year veteran of the New York sanitation department has just been paired with Marlowe, a female rookie with an Ivy League education.  The unlikely coupling provides a beguiling and playful premise for Lindsay Joelle’s comedy/drama, The Garbologists.  When the show delves into the machinations and terminology of these workers, the production is engaging and fun to watch.  However, once the narrative shifts to personal stories and their subsequent complications, the play’s appeal wanes.

Bebe Nicole Simpson and Jeff Brooks in The Garbologist.  Photo by Mike Marques.

We meet Danny (Jeff Brooks), a straightforward, down-to-earth “garbologist” as he greets his new partner, Marlowe (Bebe Nicole Simpson), a Columbia University graduate with two Master’s degrees.  It is a classic fish out-of-water beginning with Danny trying to show Marlowe the ropes.  Resistant to his help, at first, she finally succumbs to his persistence and their relationship begins, more or less, to develop.  As the 95-minute, intermission-less production progresses, the audience learns more of each protagonist’s backstory, which portions comes across as artificial and forced.  By the show’s conclusion, each has a better understanding and appreciation of the other’s circumstances.  Their initially tepid association has moved forward and matured.


The strength of The Garbologist is how playwright Lindsay Joelle incorporates genuine situations faced by sanitation workers and the generous use of authentic lingo sprinkled throughout the production.  It gives the play an entertaining trait and an air of truthfulness.  Ms. Joelle is able to humanize these “invisible” laborers, individuals that are critical to a habitable society.


Bebe Nicole Simpson and Jeff Brooks in The Garbologist.  Photo by Mike Marques.

An issue, though, with the play is the lack of a fuller backstory for Marlowe.  We are supplied snippets of her life and struggles, but not enough to create a fully developed character.  As an Ivy League educated woman, she secures a position as a sanitation worker.  Why?  What is her rationale?  Is it because of the “reveal” at the end of the play which, realistically, would not be too feasible?  


Jeff Brooks gives a confident, nuanced performance as Danny.  His character comes across as earthy, matter-of-fact, and believable.  Bebe Nicole Simpson’s Marlowe is more of a challenge.  She is damaged, we learn through the course of the production, which impedes her affect to the degree that her aloofness and subtlety are frustrating. 


Director Rob Ruggiero provides his usual solid guidance, smoothly segueing between each scene.  The aspects of the play centered around the hauling of garbage are effective and appealing.  The portions of the show that are intimate and reflective are more conventionally portrayed.  The interactions between the characters would have been more fluid if there was more shading with the character of Marlowe 


Marcelo Martinez Garcia’s Set Design deserves high praise.  The garbage bags strewn across the stage is just a prelude to the appearance of a life-size, realistic looking, and operating, garbage truck (the backside at least).  My only question with the set is the intended purpose of scaffolding at the back of the performance area.


The Garbologist, playing at Theaterworks Hartford through February 25.  Click here for dates, times, and ticket information.

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