The Good For Nothings Good For My Soul

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michael gaty & sj jones

There is a dark and twisty, harrowing and intellectually provocative exploration of contemporary popular culture and its obsession with youth, beauty and fame in Loosen The Noose’s production of Michael McLeod’s play The Good For Nothings, which plays until August 18th 2013 at Emotion Picture Gallery in Halifax.

The story is centered on famous film actress Cassidy Black who, at first glance, appears to be at the top of the world. Rich, famous, beautiful, successful, sought-after by paparazzi, fans and Hollywood elites, Cassidy is favored to win her first Academy Award. Not deep below the surface, however, Cassidy has fallen victim to the real Hollywood story. Swathed in vapid blitheness, money and entitlement Cassidy and her friends are much more interested in modelling their outfits, partying with copious amounts of alcohol and cocaine and being admired than honing any sort of acting craft. When Cassidy is involved in an accident that kills her friend and fellow actress, Sharon, everything changes, but likely not in the ways the audience is expecting.

Michael McLeod writes The Good For Nothings in a dark, layered, non-linear way that is suspenseful and allows the audience to fit the pieces of the puzzle of Cassidy’s troubling scenario together for themselves. McLeod doesn’t provide all the answers for us, but gives us enough to capture our interest, to care about the people in the world of the play and to ruminate on the big themes he is mining here and how they are immediately relevant to our experience in the 21st Century. The lines blur between reality and fiction, film, hallucination and psychosis. Cassidy plays with the theatrical devices of storytelling, eager to get the “right take” and to manipulate the story in the way that best captures the way that she wants to be seen and remembered into eternity. I’m wary of giving too much away, but the play brings together two wildly disparate media obsessions of this Century: Hollywood and Terrorism, and forces us to consider how they interconnect. It also explores the connection between the media machine, its celebrity fascination and mental illness and psychiatric issues in young girls in the spotlight.

SJ Jones plays Cassidy with huge eyes and a big fake smile in a performance that is nearly all subtext. She oscillates between frivolity hiding anxiety and despair to being deadpan and dismissive and then completely loses herself in a fanatical quest for immortality, legacy and New Futurism. Michael Gaty plays several other roles, including Cassidy’s friend Sharon, and comes to represent both the real and perceived outer and inner pressures being exerted on Cassidy at all times. At times it is difficult to distinguish between the voices, but this is evocative both in that most of the characters project a similar superficial “starlet” veneer and that they eventually become jumbled into noise in Cassidy’s head anyway. Gaty has great bitter, sassiness as Sharon and then a dark, intensity as the mysterious figure who leads Cassidy toward her ultimate mission.

Since McLeod’s piece is written largely as direct address toward the audience, with a non-linear arc and in an unclear space and time it needs a strong directorial concept to translate with clarity and a riveting sense of high stakes. The Good For Nothings gets that from Margaret Legere, who makes great use of physicality and gives the play a distinct crispness both in movement and the way Jones and Gaty deliver their dialogue. The sharpness makes the play feel filmic and with lighting reminiscent of flashbulbs we are able to see how Cassidy is trying to remain in distinct focus at the centre of the universe, while reality beyond her has blurred into a mass of color and light. The play reminded me a bit of Brendan Gall’s play Wide Awake Hearts which I saw at the Tarragon Theatre in 2010 directed by the late great Gina Wilkinson. Legere’s directing style made me think of Gina and how she pushed so much of her action into the dark, forcing the audience to be fully present to work to mine the ideas of the playwright along with actors rather than passively listening to a story. It’s always so inspiring to see a young female director evoking some part of Gina’s light, reminding us that the future is ours.

I saw our society at its most bleak and terrifying onstage in The Good For Nothings in a way that I have never quite considered it before. It is theatre that is both relevant and haunting. What a terrific gift that is.

The Good For Nothings plays until August 18th at Emotion Picture Gallery (5182 Bishop Street, Halifax) at 8:00pm with matinees at 2:00pm on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $15.00 or $10.00 for Students/Artists/Underwaged and the play is well worth the ticket price. They are available by emailing margaretlegere@gmail.com and at the door before the performance.  

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