Enjoying its world premiere at Theatre BSMT, Chelsea Woolley’s The Only Good Boy stages a tense reunion between 23-year-old Jacob Stevenson (David Sklar) and 43-year-old Monica Winters (Wendy Froberg). After finding her online on a dating website, Jacob invites Monica, a former school teacher, over for supper at his place. Jacob’s place, Monica notices, is very dirty as he’s in the middle of moving to Florida, so he says anyway. Monica ignores it, turning the discussion towards her outfit, then Jacob’s family. Years of hurt and regret surface as the two catch up.
Jacob tries and tries and tries to push Monica to recognize the trauma he has been burdened with for 10 years. He wants Monica to acknowledge that what happened between them was real and it ruined his life, but she dodges any mention of the past, running away from the truth she knows deep down inside. There is no major confrontation. Jacob and Monica call it a night, leaving Jacob painfully unsatisfied and Monica distressed.
Within the play’s first fifteen minutes or so, the nature of the traumatic experience that ties Jacob and Monica together reveals itself through subtle clues in the dialogue. The truth landing with a big thud soon after. Woolley’s handling of the subject matter is less than elegant. What is the playwright’s intention? Is it to shock? If it is, Woolley certainly succeeds in that with Monica’s three (uncomfortable) monologues that act as a window into her damaged psyche. Beyond that, however, what is the audience supposed to take away from this dramatic meeting between victim and perpetrator?
The characters operate independently from each other, trapped in their own minds. Jacob and Monica’s meeting almost seems like an excuse just for these characters to talk at us; to drop ideas and themes. Yes, the play focuses on the varied consequences of abuse and neglect, but that’s only one part of the equation. Dramaturgically, why are these characters meeting each other right now, right here other than to dance around the conflict at hand?
There is a very real and serious issue in Wolley’s drama, winner of the 2016 BSMT Dwellers Playwriting Competition, but unfortunately the playwright scrapes the surface of familiar territory. Not to dwell on what the play could be, but there is a sense that the play might function better as a slow-burn than a drama where all its cards are played prematurely.
All that aside, however, the construction of Woolley’s dialogue is fascinating. The rhythmic quality of Woolley’s dialogue hits home the desired emotional effects. While the play’s structure may be lacking, its dialogue certainly is not with its menace driven by the almost musical repetition of key phrases.
Thankfully, director Kyle Schulte has a sense, too, of the rhythm in Woolley’s dialogue as the show is well-paced.
There is menace, too, in Benjamin Toner’s set that sees Jacob’s living space, its walls lined with dirty moving boxes, collide with a floor full of mulch. Seriously. The entire floor is covered in mulch, which Sklar’s Jacob aggressively digs into over the course of the play, at one point finding old birthday cards from Monica. Sound Designer Aidan Lytton produces real anxiety in these revealing moments. There is a real serial killer vibe – like corpse stuffed inside an oil drum – given off by Toner’s swampy set, and Lisa Floyd’s brooding light work.
That’s also perhaps because Sklar delivers an unsettling performance as Jacob, switching back and forth between friendly and unhinged on the fly. Although, the unhinged side to Jacob is always present in the actor’s performance, but uncomfortably restrained. A strong performance. Froberg, too, finds these moments where she walks a fine line between Monica’s facade (an airhead) and her real self. She digs into a dark place for her character’s disturbing monologues with great success. Both actors make it difficult to know what exactly to make of their respective characters.
Although not explosive, Woolley’s The Only Good Boy is a worthy new drama of staging. There are elements that fall short, certainly, but then there are elements that really, really work. And Theatre BSMT demonstrate that they are the right company to stage the premiere of this play with their strong, articulate production.
Theatre BSMT’s The Only Good Boy by Chelsea Woolley runs May 17 – 21 at the Motel Theatre.
For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.theatrebsmt.ca/Theatre_BSMT/Whats_On.html