Thomas Burns Scully
Stephen Fry once said “Sex is nothing to fax home about.” He was, of course, joking at the time (although he was a noted celibate for an extended period of his life), but it’s a joke I’ve always liked for its nonsensicalness and vague hint of 80s/90s technological nostalgia. Taken out of context, it’s also a good reminder of how we do obsess about sex, as a culture. Historically, the arts and the theatre have been quite good at bringing conversations about sex to the fore. There’s a reason performers are often thought of as degenerates. Commedia dell’arte was full of the bawdy, Shakespeare has sex all over his canon (ooh-er missus), and one of the oldest surviving Greek comedies is literally about women withholding sex from their husbands to stop a war. In modern times, sex-comedy has been a distinct genre since the sixties hey-day of Joe Orton and the Carry-On franchise. It has continued to grow and take on a harsher edge, particularly through the works of Neil LaBute and his contemporaries. There’s obviously still a conversation to be had about it, then. Or at least more jokes to be made. And so, with that preamble, we come to Red Soil’s latest work: ‘Good Morning and Goodnight’.
“Good Morning and Goodnight” is a double bill of one-acts that just closed at the Producer’s Club. They both deal with the subject of bizarre one night stands, Christopher Wharton’s ‘Goodnight’ deals with the night of, Matthew Stannah’s ‘Good Morning’ deals with the morning after. In ‘Goodnight’, our protagonist finds himself at a strange girl’s apartment, and through a series of plot twists ends up taking to his penis, then a teddy-bear, then starts shaving himself. In ‘Good Morning’, our hero wakes up in the bed of a woman who has already decided that they will be spending the rest of their lives together. The jokes run thick and fast and play with all the sexual mores you’d expect. Like a one-night stand, it’s an evening of no-strings attached sexy fun.
Stannah and Wharton both star as the leads in the plays that they have written, and do a solid job on both fronts. It’s not always easy saying your own text out loud, but both of them manage it and know how to make it sound good and natural. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re saying anything particularly new with their work, it’s largely a string of American Pie-esque gross-out gags, playing off of exaggerated stereotypes, and cranking up the ridiculous-factor of every situation to eleven. You will have seen this kind of stuff before if you’re a regular sex-comedy watcher, but a familiar joke told well is still a good joke. The women of the piece are also on form, Mantalena Papadatou is the exotic future-bond girl you might expect; and Gabriella Sarrubbo is the ultra-clingy, ultra-sugary, ultra-cutesy modern Lucille Ball spin-off. They throw themselves into their roles whole-heartedly, which is good because there’s no room for hesitancy and shyness in a show like this. Their level of commitment is highly commendable.
The pieces suffer slightly structurally. I have a theory, which is as flawed as any other theory I can think of, but nonetheless it is my theory and it is mine. Writers who have studied writing are great at story structure, but can’t always write characters. Whereas, writers that haven’t studied writing are great at characters, but have problems with story structure. That seems to hold true here, somewhat. Wharton and Stannah are both actors first and writers second, and they write fun characters and jokes by the barrel-load, but both their plays feel odd structurally. ‘Goodnight’ has a clear beginning, but it’s middle throws up a series of different story incidents that seem to suggest building to several different climaxes, and the ending it does eventually lead to feels utterly disconnected from everything that came before. Similarly, but conversely, ‘Good Morning’ builds to a clear ending, but seems to take a great deal of time working out what the start of the play is about. In both it creates a confusion and narrative disconnect that distracts from the funny, and clouds the clear picture of the characters’ motivations that we might otherwise have had.
So, ‘Good Morning and Goodnight’ is worth your time, fun and sexy, if a little flawed. The kind of show that with a little workshopping could be a very tight bit of theatre, but at present has to be content with being an enjoyable romp. There are worse fates for theatre shows. Director Yudelka Heyer wrangles her actors well, the casts are solid, the only thing that needs a second coat of paint is Wharton and Stannah’s writing, which, even at present, is seven subway stops away from bad. Red Soil are building an impressive resume of theatre shows, this is something of a departure for them in that it’s their first show without a distinct African theme, and you should certainly keep an eye on them, because they are gradually maintaining a steady output of work at a consistently improving level of quality. ‘Good Morning and Goodnight’ has now closed, but you should follow Red Soil on their social media, because they’re going to carry on doing this kind of stuff, and they are worth watching.
‘Good Morning and Good Night’ has just closed at the Producer’s Club. For details of upcoming Red Soil events follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
This review was written by Thomas Burns Scully, a New York based writer, actor and musician. His work has been lauded in Time Out NY and the New York Times, and his writing has been performed on three continents. He is generally considered to be the thrifty person’s Renaissance man.
Follow him on Facebook (as Thomas Burns Scully), and on Twitter (@ThomasDBS)