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A CurtainUp Review

I really killed him, didn't I? I mean, this isn't some dream. I'm not gonna wake up. It's real. This is real life.— Marla
L-R: Raife Baker, Amanda Sykes, Dustin Charles and Alex Morf (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
We all know the formula for a good whodunit. A crime has been committed, there are several suspects and we are throw off track by a few red herrings. At last, we find out the butler definitely did not do it. J.C. Ernst's Goodbody is a very different kind of murder mystery.

Set in a barn in upstate New York, the play opens with Marla (Amanda Sykes), gun in hand, standing over what we can only presume is a dead body (a platform/bin blocks our view). Downstage, Spencer (Raife Baker) sits in a chair, bleeding, tied and taped. Maria can't remember who she is or what she did. She definitely has no idea why. Spencer seems to know, but he's not telling. Although he claims it was Marla who got him into this mess, running him over with her car, he now wants to help Marla escape from the mysterious and threatening O'Leary sons, who he claims are on her track.

So it seems Marla has committed the crime. But why?

Spencer is foul-mouthed, indignant and desperate. Marla is frantic, confused and ditzy. By the end of the too long first act we learn that Spencer has been engaged in some kind of shady activity at a casino and Marla comes from Gary, Indiana (she even sings the song from The Music Man).

Marla and Spencer got to know each other during a brief affair that started in a public bathroom. Sometime during their relationship she told hm about a mysterious Mr. Goodbody, a man Marla loved more than anyone else in the world and, after he died, resolved never to forget. Before Marla and Spencer can flee to Canada, police officer Charlie Aimes (Alex Morf) arrives, and Marla crawls out the back window just in time to make herself scarce.

Aimes (a.k.a. Twinkie Twat, due to an unfortunate experience with the Hostess cake) is Marla's former boyfriend. He knows the secret of Mr. Goodbody. He also knows they're all going to be in big trouble when Chance (Dustin Charles), the brother of the dead man, arrives to exact vengeance. When Marla returns, both Aimes and Spencer vie to get her on their side before Chance finds his way to the barn.

Chance does turn out to be as vicious as expected. But in an unexpected and gruesome turn of events we find out that in J.C. Ernst's world nothing is exactly as it seems.

If you find it difficult to take any of this seriously, don't even try. Goodbody is a satire of the old-fashioned gangster movie and the newer variations created by writers such as Martin McDonagh and Quentin Tarantino. In many ways it is quite successful.

Sykes has a fine sense of timing. She makes her character totally innocent and flagrantly unbelievable at the same time. Morf is an accomplished sad sack. He makes it easy for us to laugh at Aimes even as part of us pities him. Director Melissa Firlit keeps the mayhem moving.

Although a good deal of Goodbody is belabored, there's enough here that's truly funny to get us over the bumpy spots.

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Goodbody by J.C. Ernst
Directed by Melissa Firlit
Cast: Amanda Sykes (Maria), Raife Baker (Spencer), Alex Morf (Aimes), Dustin Charles (Chance)
Scenic & Lighting Design: Matthew D. McCarren
Original Music & Sound Design: Matt Bittner
Costume Design: Dan Morrison
Fight Director: Cliff Williams III
Production Stage Manager: Dee Dee Katchen
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes, no intermission
59E59 Theaters (between Park and Madison)
From 10/06/18; opening 10/11/18; closing 11/04/18
Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM & 7:30 PM; and Sunday at 2:30 PM
Tickets: $25
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Oct. 7, 2018

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