Review: GOODS at Artemisia Theatre

This world premiere imagines a dystopian future in which politics are painfully personal.

By: May. 08, 2021

Review: GOODS at Artemisia Theatre

No talking about politics: this is the rule by which Marla and Sam abide. For them, it's no mere nicety to ease their way through a holiday dinner with relatives. After 20 years of traveling through space together collecting trash, they're genuinely trying not to drive each other mad.

Lauren Ferebee's GOODS, now streaming in its world premiere at Artemisia Theatre, imagines a bleak, not-so-distant future in which Earth is quickly becoming less habitable. As cities sink, one by one, into the oceans, refugees are housed in cargo stations in space, while those who haven't yet been displaced pay a fortune for clean drinking water. Meanwhile, the ultra-rich live lavishly in off-world havens, creating excessive waste for the likes of Sam and Marla to clean up.

With E. Faye Butler directing, Julie Proudfoot and Shariba Rivers star as Marla and Sam, respectively. Filmed for the small screen, with videography by Peter Sullivan of Marsten McCoy Media, the actors appear against a digital background depicting a shabby spaceship surrounded by stars. While the Zoom-like visuals, such as the blurred edges around the actors' images, are distracting at first, they're quickly forgotten. After all, realism isn't the most essential factor in a futuristic play set in outer space.

As they mark their 20th anniversary as coworkers, the protagonists know each other's daily rhythms as intimately as any two family members. Their banter reflects this longstanding familiarity, yet they both hold heavy secrets. And when the hot topic of the refugee crisis comes up in conversation, it clearly hits a nerve.

Marla's son works for Border Patrol, and she holds more protectionist views, preferring to secure the borders and hoard scarce resources. Sam, who once worked for Border Patrol but declines to elaborate why it wasn't for her, has a more humanitarian perspective. As she argues, refugees don't choose to displace themselves, and their survival is more important than the comfort of those who still have homes.

The two women's debates about refugees are quickly shut down by their "no politics" rule, which was Marla's idea. However, they can no longer avoid the issue when they undertake a mysterious new work assignment, which pays $10,000 each but requires them to sign an NDA. After making a shocking discovery about the nature of the job, Sam and Marla must face the reality that they are two small cogs in a truly macabre machine - and the moral quandary of what they will do about it.

With this unnerving twist - not to be spoiled here - playwright Lauren Ferebee puts a human face on issues that are too often viewed, in our present day, as distant political debates: refugee migration, climate change and corporate malfeasance. Ferebee invites viewers to walk in Marla's and Sam's shoes and imagine: what would you do if thrust into such a life-or-death ethical dilemma?

Although the plot loses momentum toward the end and falls short of a climactic punch, the play poignantly unravels each woman's deepest secrets and emphasizes the ways in which the personal and the political are inevitably intertwined. Every decision we make, as individuals or societies, has a wider impact on our fellow humans. As Sam puts it, "It's all politics - everything we do!"

Ultimately, empathy is the only moral recourse to which Sam and Marla can turn in the face of an overwhelming crisis. And yet, it's a powerful force, even when wielded by two broke trash collectors in a cramped spaceship. After all, if everything we do is political, shouldn't we lead with empathy? If we can take this principle to heart in 2021, perhaps the reality of 2120 has a chance of looking less bleak.

GOODS streams online through May 30 and is available to audiences worldwide. Tickets are $30 and available at Ticket buyers will be sent a dedicated link (url) and security code to access their virtual performance of GOODS one hour prior to the performance start time. The link and security code will work only for the performance date and time purchased.