Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 10, 2024

REVIEW: TheaterWorks Hartford, “The Garbologists”

TheaterWorks Hartford, Hartford CT
through February 25, 2024
by Jarice Hanson
Photo by Mike Marques
With a title like “The Garbologists” you have to be ready for just about anything. TheaterWorks Hartford’s newest show has a promising premise.  Two sanitation workers, an old hand, and a newbie, are assigned to work together. The one with experience, Danny, played by Jeff Brooks, is a White career sanitation worker with no pretense about what he does, and a wealth of knowledge about how to do the job right. For him, being a sanitation worker is an art form, and he subtly instructs us about the dangers of doing this type of essential work.  
Marlowe, played by Bebe Nicole Simpson, is Black and has an Ivy League degree. There’s something in her past that she doesn’t want to talk about, and why she has become a sanitation worker is part of the unfolding of this story.
The comedy begins with both starting their day in the sanitation truck.  Danny cracks Dad jokes, and Marlowe scrolls on her phone while sipping coffee. They are clearly mismatched, so where might this plot go? Will it be a love story? A buddy adventure? A race/class theme? 
There’s a lot to like in this 90-minute production, including Director Rob Ruggiero’s clever use of the stage crew dressed as sanitation workers themselves. The amazing set design by Marcelo Martínez Garcia, with authentic costumes by Joseph Shrope and lighting design by John Lasiter present a unified vision of the garbage-laden streets of New York City.The pacing is brisk and there is something very appealing about a story focusing on people who are often overlooked.
Lindsay Joelle’s script is effective in giving the characters backstories and focusing on the idea of a civilization’s record being comprised of what we throw away, but the writing is somewhat uneven and at times the dialog seems a bit manipulative. What seems to be lacking between the characters is chemistry that raises the possibility of an outcome that propels the action toward the conclusion. At the same time, what emerges is a heart-felt twist that is realistic, and at the same time contrived.
Theatre depends on the characters changing as the plot develops, and Brooks infuses his performance with an energy that is consistent and totally believable. Simpson’s authenticity is charming, and she is most effective when warning Danny to curb his exuberance in a heated family confrontation, but the tension between the two seems uneven. At the same time, the show its audience sees on opening night is not the same show that emerges throughout the show’s run, and as these two talented performers become more connected over time, “The Garbologists” may become the type of play that has a long life on many stages.