The Garbologists is a most unusual play. It’s not every day you will find a show about garbage collectors—specifically, garbage collectors in New York City, a place where there have been some historical events involving garbage collection—but that’s what you’ll find at Dezart Performs’ final production of the 2022-2023 season.
Our hero and heroine have just met. It’s the first day on the job for Marlowe (Nathalie Bennett), who has just passed the tests to get the union job. Danny (Jacob Alden Roa) is her teacher and partner, keen to show off his street smarts and years of experience.
The set—interestingly designed by Jimmy Cuomo and lit by than Phil Murphy—features the cab of a gigantic truck and piles of garbage bags on a street corner, as well as the trash-gobbling rear end of the truck. It’s eerily beautiful. The sound, by Clark Dugger, is worth mentioning, as Manhattan is never ever quiet. Background noise constantly trickles in, causing the “garbologists” to yell at each other over the ongoing fray.
The actors are faced with tremendous challenges in this play. All the lines have to be bellowed over the background noise; this means using exaggerated diction at all times, plus an exhausting amount of energy spent on every scene. Both Bennett and Roa rise to the occasion, for the most part; their conversation is unendingly interesting. But sometimes when the actors turn to the side, their words get drowned out. The actors also sometimes run out of air and drop the final words of their sentences.
Bennett has a lovely face, something the audience notices as she pushes through this unusual job. Her Marlowe learns that “you never rat on a partner” and absorbs new words like “mongo” into her vocabulary without question.
Roa has a versatile manner and appearance about him that would allow him to tackle almost any role. He gradually reveals Danny to be an unexpectedly complex man who starts off lecturing his newbie and showing off his knowledge, before revealing that he’s beset with personal problems stemming from his lack of self-control. He keeps his walls up to protect himself from what life dishes out to him.
From scene to scene, the audience witnesses the mental and physical challenges these workers face. As they work, they exchange ideas. “Read the bags,” Danny instructs. We find out about the characters through their discussions of legal problems, family and lifestyles. As their own lives are revealed, we are surprised by what we discover. We see the hidden need for healing in each of them, and watch them try to make that happen in different ways. The work affects their thoughts—but most interesting is the garbage itself, and what they find in it changes their lives.
There are laughs along with the drama and the revelations of inner conflict. There are distractions, such as when the conversation turns to hockey. And there are unforgettable moments, like when we find out the truth about their personal lives. It an unusual play, and the packed room appreciated it on its opening night. Playwright Lindsay Joelle loves to present lives seldom seen in American theater, and this play certainly demonstrates that. To learn how she researched it would be fascinating.
Founding artistic director Michael Shaw, who also directs The Garbologists, made a brave and extraordinary choice to conclude Dezart Performs’ 15th season with this play. (It was also great to catch up and share pandemic stories with Shaw, which I was able to do because I left home for the show early, fearing the town would be jammed with the influx of Coachella attendees—but to my astonishment, it was clear sailing!)
No matter who you are, you will learn something from Marlowe and Danny. The Garbologists is a most unusual show, and a pleasant surprise.
Dezart Performs’ production of The Garbologists is performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, April 23, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $39 to $45, and the show runs an hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission. For more information, call 760-322-0179, or visit www.dezartperforms.com.
Thanks for the review, Valerie. Will try to attend functions there as I get up to speed with all the venues open in recent years. Such change from late 80’s and 90’s.
There was a wonderful evening there last night. You probably know but it was a fund raiser for Nickel City Opera-West, a full professional opera company whose founder is Valerian Ruminski . Best wishes.
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