In a nondescript hot and dry region, a young man’s body comes of age and thus inspires his quest to determine what exactly makes a man a man. At approximately 80 minutes, this production is succinct with stylized performances and good direction, but the extraneous characters and multiple, competing themes (some left unresolved) demonstrate a lack of focus.
From L to R: John McAdams, Barbara Pitts, and Christopher Ryan Richards
Photo by Jim Baldassare
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
According to the press materials, the concept of society and the paralysis and paranoia that it implies is put under a fine lens in Maggie Smith’s manhood vs. microcosm play, Good Heif. While that may be true, several other themes are brought to the forefront and nearly engulf Smith’s intended messages about ignorance and resistance to change, expressed largely through visuals and sexually analogous dialogue. In accordance with these messages, however, Good Heif is anything but dull.
Set in a hot and dry place with no specific time, Good Heif centers on a rural, hard-working family that consists of Pa (John McAdams), Ma (Barbara Pitts), and Lad (Christopher Ryan Richards). From the play's inception, it is established that digging is the basis for the community's economy, despite the wonderfully barren and “cracked-earth” set by Lauren Helpern. The physical comedy created under Sarah Cameron Sunde's direction is also there from the start, as the actors twist their bodies deliberately without shouting to penetrate an earth that cannot be penetrated with staffs. The cinematic and storm-like lighting by Juliet Chia introduces the family as well as two extraneous (but entertaining) characters, Burly Man (Paul Klementowicz) and Old Man (Yves Rene) to the stage. These townspeople weigh lightly on the plot, and could have been replaced by references in dialogue because the community's impact on this family is already implicit.
Lad is full of questions. He is perplexed by the incessant digging in an earth that doesn't yield any crops, and by the new developments in his body: he seems to be in a constant state of arousal with little or no proper stimulus required. Lad's excitement is distastefully but hilariously depicted with a bionic, ahem, phallic object that rises against his will. After receiving high fives from his Pa and the townsmen, Lad also receives some ill advice: a man isn't a man without digging, both in the laborious and sexual sense. And if Lad can't find a suitable “tunnel” in which to dig, there's a good heifer waiting for him on the pasture.
Toiling over the guilt of violating the poor heif, Lad encounters what he believes to be the bane of his conscience, Ol' Heif (April Mathis), or in his mind, the devil herself. As he continues to battle his growing member, no amount of church-going and “devil, devil, stay away” chanting can keep horned, bovine-like Ol' Heif from tempting him with crossing over to the land of the plentiful and pleasurable called thar (interestingly enough, one definition of Thar is a goat-like animal native of the Himalayas). And in between fashioning a hip corset for her son to stifle his problem, Ma convulses from sickness from the rigors of her work. Or perhaps, the spiritual sickness of being stagnant and afraid.
The cast of Good Heif throw themselves into an animalistic and uncivilized style of acting that bodes well for this piece. As the sole human female presence, Barbara Pitts as Ma distinguishes herself with haphazard body jerks and a facility for comedy. As the incarnation of the molested cow, Lad's hushed desires and his beaten conscience, April Matthis as Ol' Heif is sultry, seductive, and manipulates her limbs well for spectacle and humor.
Despite the ability to see the suspension wire as a poor representation of a luna moth “flying” away, Good Heif is produced by New Georges with few glitches and plenty of special effects that remain special. However, it is full of allegories that compete to leave a lasting impression. Sure, the theme of ignorance impeding growth and opportunities and breeding danger exists. Also present is the notion that adherence to proper behavior as deemed by society for acceptance is only achieved through fear. However, the persistent phallic symbols and talk about how manhood is equated with dominating womanhood suggests that the play's focus is deconstructing sexism and man's obsession with sex itself. Maggie Smith suggests that getting thar is a better goal than the nonsensical digging (even if the existence of freedom that "thar" brings comes into question) and that the true test of manhood comes in the ability to shed convention. Yet, it would help if that theme superceded all the others, and if the props and some carefully placed lines of dialogue fell in line with that concept. It would certainly strengthen an otherwise funny and imaginative play.
Through October 27th. Tickets: $20 http://www.smarttix.com/. Ohio Theater: 66 Wooster Street(Spring & Broome)
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