The Goodies, a devised play conceived by Director Susan Stroupe and the eight women of color who have taken on the roles of the main characters, is a challenging and thought-provoking look at how racism affects teenage girls in high school.
Drawing its inspiration from the Salem Witch Trials and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, The Goodies does not hold back in showing the physical effects of racism on the young women in the play. It would be very hard for me to summarize every aspect of this highly complex piece. The story begins at John Every High School, where the eight women are being subjected to varying levels of overt and systemic racism during their classes. After a few incidents which ignite furious social media backlash–with tweets cleverly shown here as sticky notes which are applied to the characters and set during moments of high emotion–the principal enlists the girls to assist in rooting out the racist teachers in the school. Thus, the story proceeds to show the consequences of the negative environment on the young women as well as the consequences of the “struggle sessions” that are initiated with the staff which result in the majority of them being fired.
Tina Canady as Queenie, Alex Reeves as Mela, and Aladrian Wetzel as perfectionist Sam show the struggles of young black women who purposefully manipulate their image to try and conform. Each actress inhabits her role, and perfectly conveys the despairing sense of “never getting it right.” Queenie is an aspiring talk show host with a social media program that she hosts from the school’s restroom. Mela struggles with her body image and always feeling like she is less-than in both accomplishments and looks. Sam attempts to conform to what she believes society wants from her while applying to Ivy league schools. This subplot was particularly striking, as it showed not only the obvious sentiment that people think Sam is only accepted as an Affirmative Action token, but Sam’s own concern with whether this might be the case. Sam is obviously talented and intelligent, but she can never take that at face value.
Jess Rivera plays Mercedes, who is in a relationship with Danielle Harrow’s Tokka. Mercedes is plagued by the negative perceptions of her Latinx heritage. Tokka is subjected to a particularly humiliating event during a class in which she is falsely accused of something. This was one of the most difficult scenes to watch as it showed not only a violation of her integrity, but of her personal space, as the teacher proceeds to give her a pat down in front of the class.
Rachel Reckling as Jada, whose election as Student Council President sets off many of the events that populate the plot, is believably cynical and resigned to her undesired role as the representative of her race. Dana Woodson as Ari reveals a sensitive character whose body type is profiled as sexual, though she never consents to this label. Elizabeth Ung as Xinyi, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, struggles with being seen as a model minority. The Goodies does not shy away with how the idea of being a model minority intersects with and alienates her from other women of color.
The set was functional and dynamic in its layout. Environmental Designer Jess Rasp does an apt job of transporting us to a high school where tumultuous events unfold. Lighting Designer Helen Garcia-Alton gets a lot right, but there were moments which were too dark and could have been highlighted a bit more. I will disclaim that this may not be a product of the design so much as the location of the rigging in relation to the stage, as the ceiling in this space was quite high.
Minor issues with the plot do arise, but are mostly related to the amount of material in the play. There is a scene where the girls have formed an extracurricular science club where I wasn’t sure if they were each buying in to stereotypes about another, as well as a scene with a fired transgender teacher saying they lost their access to hormones due to having lost their job. I couldn’t quite tell if this was supposed to muddle the moral alignment of the girls’ actions or not. This is a play that must be experienced before conclusions can be drawn about anyone’s motives and everyone may come to different conclusions based on their own experiences.
The Goodies at Iron Crow Theatre is an intense, electric call-out of systemic racism which deeply injures the women of color among us. At turns both disturbing and enlightening, the strength of these women- and their fragility- in the face of what they deal with on a day-to-day basis challenges the audience to confront their complicity in maintaining systems which destroy lives. The talented cast who devised this play leave no stone unturned in their quest for justice. The Goodies is a beautiful, heartbreaking exploration of identity and its intersections with contemporary culture.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 10-minute intermission.