Arts & Culture

‘Goose and Tomtom’ probes the unknown and the unknowable

David Rabe’s existentialist tour de force brings physical comedy to the PW Downspace

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, March 8, 2013

Public service announcement: “Goose and Tomtom” is completely insane, compulsively ambiguous and totally worth seeing. In a rare production of David Rabe’s violent, surrealist romp, directed by Jenny Gorelick ’14, the actors wander bravely into an absurd but oddly familiar world of darkness, pain and confusion.

The play follows two small-time jewel thieves, Goose, played by Jackson Usher ’15, and Tomtom, played by Christopher Fitzsimmons ’13.5, in their attempt to recover missing jewelry they stole for Tomtom’s girlfriend, Lorraine, played by Sarah Gage ’15. They live in “the underworld,” where their banal routine of drinking and arguing is interrupted by bizarre, surrealist episodes. But plot is tangential to what is really going on in “Goose and Tomtom,” which aims to disorient and challenge the audience’s conception of reality.

“That’s the experience that David Rabe and I are saying we all have in our own daily lives,” Gorelick said on the depth of the work’s ambiguity. “This is just a more saturated, more intense, more comic version of that.”

Gorelick made a bold choice in bringing “Goose and Tomtom” to the Production Workshop Downspace. The play’s production history is brief and littered with critical dissent — a 1986 production at Lincoln Center starring Madonna and Sean Penn flopped. In an otherwise Tony Award-worthy collection, this work remains critically unpopular, the misunderstood and creepy step-child of Rabe’s oeuvre.

This production is a fast-paced, visceral work with a manic, anarchic energy. The physical comedy is carefully orchestrated and seamlessly delivered, and the actors navigate uncertain emotional and conceptual territory with aplomb.

“The characters basically have no idea what’s going on in their own play,” said Zal Shroff  ’14, the dramaturg. “Even the writer himself says he doesn’t know.”

Indeed, Goose and Tomtom seem to exist outside any conventional understanding of time or place. They speak with juvenile, slightly Yiddish iterations of Italian mobster accents, and the dialogue is inscrutable and disorienting. Long, spiraling anecdotes go nowhere. In one memorable sequence, Goose recalls, “Sometimes I still got like these frog feelings from when I was briefly a frog.” Hopping ensues.

It’s outlandish and completely hilarious, but beneath the humor runs an undercurrent of schizophrenic anxiety. “I ain’t in the expressions on my face, and I ain’t in my eyes. I don’t know where I am,” Goose admits frantically.

The playful dialogue between the titular thieves meanders into fantasies about killing their archenemy Bingo and “pumping” his sister Lulu, played by Kevin Kelly ’15 and Anna Reed ’15, respectively.

“I, as Chris, know that Tomtom knows that something scary is going on, but Tomtom doesn’t really know,” Fitzsimmons said. “I struggle with that.”

Light and sound have a sinister agency in this strange, barren landscape. Sound design by Nara Shin ’13 introduces a series of ambient, electronic pulses that fade in and out, often announcing the latest peculiar plot twist. Light design by Ben Chesler ’15 manipulates light and shadow to enhance feelings of instability. The final, cathartic climax becomes a terrifying, epileptic disco, and a sex scene plays out in silhouette.

The set is nothing more than three walls, a decrepit refrigerator and a few pieces of bland, weathered furniture.

Tomtom feverishly scrawls a schematic pictogram on a chalkboard,  so as not to forget what happened. In the play, memory is fleeting, and narrative can be reconstructed, reimagined and rearranged.

Fitzsimmons and Usher have an effortless camaraderie, whether swapping intimate secrets or mercilessly beating each other. Their relationship dances around the homoerotic — two boys wrestling and running around waving guns — but ends up somewhere between bromance and brotherhood.

Reed is deliciously bizarre as Lulu. She remains bound and gagged for most of the show but delivers some of its most memorable, enigmatic passages with a sense of cosmic authority.

The ambitious fight sequences are choreographed with rhythmic precision by Trevor Olds ’14. Violence seems to operate as ritual in the underworld. A man breaks a chair. A head slams into a table. A girl sticks pins into her boyfriend’s arms.

“The violence is them trying to have some semblance of power and control in their uncontrollable, crazy world,” Gorelick said.

The manic orbit of violence and uncertainty is fatiguing, but the actors are so consistently on point that audiences won’t mind. Rabe’s intentions clearly operate outside tidy character arcs or timely climaxes, but this narrative fluency makes for a disjointed viewing experience.

“This is not a play that can be wrapped up in a little bow,” said Gorelick.

Do not go to see this production hoping for a well-made play in the style of Ibsen or Rattigan. “Goose and Tomtom” is a chaotic examination of power and powerlessness in a frightening, irrational universe.

“Goose and Tomtom” will run Friday, Sunday and Monday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. in the PW downspace.