What would you do if you inadvertently discovered that you were about to cause a catastrophe? Would you do anything you could to prevent it or would you pretend you didn't know and just continue following orders?
That's the dilemma facing two ordinary women in the virtual world premiere of playwright-in-residence Lauren Ferebee's “Goods” at Artemisia Theatre.
But there's a twist. The play takes place a century in the future, and Marla (Julie Proudfoot) and Sam (Shariba Rivers) are intergalactic trash collectors. They're celebrating their 20th anniversary of working together in a cramped spaceship and are about to return to Earth when they're asked to make a final pickup out in the asteroid belt. The job comes with a hefty bonus, and since they're always strapped for cash, they decide to accept, albeit reluctantly.
Not surprisingly, Ferebee is using this sci-fi setup to address pressing issues of our time and posit possible courses if we don't change our ways. Marla is white and Sam is Black, but that's barely a blip on her radar. Near the top of the list are climate change, immigration policy and sustainability.
As Marla and Sam discuss the past and present, we learn that the U.S. coastal cities are sinking. New Orleans, which had special meaning for both of them, is already gone. At the same time, ironically, water has become scarce, so that the two gallons they buy at a space shop cost them $60.
Immigrants — Marla calls them “DPs” but Sam objects and says they're “refugees” — have become such an issue that they're being sent by border patrol to holding stations in space. Nobody on Earth seems to think about the destination of all the garbage Marla and Sam are collecting or what it might pollute, but the women recall some more-or-less amusing incidents, such as burying a load of contemporary fashion on Mars.
The strength of the production, which is ably directed by acting star E. Faye Butler, is the contrasting personalities of the two characters and the ways they interact. Proudfoot's Marla is quieter, more reserved and rather conservative, though her passion can be ignited by a cause. Rivers' Sam is a spark plug and quick to let her emotions show, especially when the women argue, which is a lot. To the credit of Butler and the actors, we can almost believe they're cooped up next to each other in a spaceship rather than separated over Zoom.
The work of the production team helps, especially the videography by Peter Sullivan of Marston McCoy Media and the sound design by Willow James. LaVisa Williams' costumes consist of yellow uniforms and hats and scarves suggesting the ship isn't as warm as it could be.
If I were giving Ferebee notes on the script, I'd focus on three areas. First, the parallels between Marla and Sam fall into categories that are too neat. Marla's vice of choice in their off-time is gambling; Sam has a taste for fruity alcoholic drinks as well as M&M’s. Marla has a son who's just joined border patrol; Sam has a brother who was in the armed forces.
Each of the women has a secret that she's been keeping from the other, in Sam's case for the whole 20 years, which is hard to believe. These secrets eventually come out, of course, but since the audience knows about them in advance, their impact is diminished.
The sci-fi universe Ferebee creates also seems limited in scope. While she's grappling with global issues, we basically only hear about what's going on in the United States and a small part of space. It would be interesting to hear more about the rest of the world and to get a better sense of political and social realities. This also would give Marla and Sam more to talk about and perhaps inject some needed humor, of which there is relatively little.
Finally, although we don't find out the dilemma Marla and Sam have to face until about halfway through the 90-minute play, it is telegraphed way in advance. I figured it out practically from the beginning, so when the big reveal came, it was a bit of a letdown.
And here's something of a spoiler: Don't expect “Goods” to offer a definitive resolution. But do watch it for the acting, direction and questions worth pondering.