There’s lots of trash talking in the opening moments of The Garbologists, a play about an odd couple teamed up on the job. (He’s a dad-like white guy with right-leaning politics. She’s Black and liberal with a master’s degree.)
That’s trash talk, literally and figuratively, because they are assigned to the same trash truck — he’s a seasoned pro, she’s a newbie — and no one’s holding back. It’s them, the garbage, and eight hours of forced togetherness.
“How do you navigate with different people with different cultures and different ideologies in such a limited space?” asked playwright Lindsay Joelle. “We’re all in such limited space.”
Opening Thursday, Nov. 11, at the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s Suzanne Roberts Theatre is the world premiere of Joelle’s work, showcasing three running themes for the playwright: micro communities, trucks, and what happens in the in-between moments.
An earlier play, Trayf, focused on two Hasidic teenagers who distribute Shabbat candles from a U-Haul. The Garbologists involves a 19-ton trash truck.
What the plays have in common is an examination of in-between moments. What’s the chatter as you navigate traffic in Brooklyn? But what if your workplace geography puts you in a situation where you are stuck with a colleague — a colleague you barely know, a colleague who is completely different from you? And it’s not just for hours, but days, and weeks, and months. What’s the conversation? What lessons are learned? And what happens to the trash?
Joelle said she gets inspired when she meets somebody “who is part of a micro community that I know little about.” She met a sanitation worker — the husband of a friend — during a weekend trip.
“I had all my preconceived notions of what a sanitation worker would be like and what kind of people who would be drawn to the job. I found that was an area of blindness,” Joelle said.
“He had a college degree and he had had a whole career as a sound engineer. He loved being in the department. He had a six-figure salary, great benefits, great pension,” she said. “He felt that this was a really great career. I was impressed by how smart he was. He was emotionally smart. He was very vulnerable. I was very curious to learn about this particular world.”
Joelle immersed herself in the world of trash (not literally in the trash, though). She went on ride-alongs. She visited depots.
They picked up the trash; Joelle picked up the lingo. “I love learning job words.
“They prefer san man rather than garbage man,” Joelle explained, because, as they told her, “just because we pick up trash doesn’t make us garbage.”
Vocabulary lesson: Mongo (verb and noun). To mongo is to scavenge wonderful trash and claim it. That which is found is the mongo (noun). “Half of my apartment is excellent mongo,” Joelle said.
Joelle visited a secret Mongo Museum in a trash truck depot. She saw displays of war medals, 100 different Pez containers, a collection of multicolored Tamagotchis, animals mounted on plaques and African tribal art.
She came away with newfound respect and a change in her own trash habits. The job is dangerous. “You don’t know what’s in those bags,” Joelle said. “People throw away knives, needles, bottles of the bleach. Then the trash compacter squash it and it sprays it all over.”
“Wrap knives in newspaper. Don’t throw away oil-based pain or bleach. Don’t overly stuff your bags. They break. It’s better to have more bags and lighter ones,” she said.
Joelle has been working The Garbologists for more than five years — and that’s not unusual for playwrights. In 2018, she workshopped it at PlayPenn, a Philadelphia organization that helps authors develop their plays.
Nov. 11 through Dec. 5 at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad St., Philadelphia. For tickets and information, firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-985-0420. Discounts for sanitation workers. Proof of vaccination, masks required.
From New Hope to New York
In the 1990s, columnist Candace Bushnell, writing for the New York Observer, recorded her trials and tribulations as a young single woman in the Big Apple. She was just on the edge of 40 then and her column went viral, was spun into an anthology, and then formed the basis the HBO hit series Sex and the City, plus two movies.
Fast-forward to 2021 and Bushnell, now in her 60s and divorced, moved onto Long Island, where she encountered yet another dating scene — this time involving men and women of a different age.
The result? Is There Still Sex in the City? — a new play previewing Saturday, Nov. 13, at New York’s off-Broadway venue the Daryl Roth Theatre near Union Square, a hangout ‘hood for the young women in Sex in the City, busy drinking their cosmos.
Bushnell’s play had its first run six weeks this summer at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope.
Listed as lead producers in New York are Marc Johnston, Robyn Goodman, Alexander Fraser, and Josh Fiedler — the last three the trio of producers that now runs the Bucks County Playhouse. The playhouse itself even gets a mention among the names of people and organizations financing Bushnell’s one-woman show — she’s both the playwright and the performer.
Director Loren Latarro, who consults at the Bucks County Playhouse, had asked Fraser if the playhouse would be interested in helping Bushnell develop her work for New York.
“Yes,” Fraser said he answered. “No holds barred. `If you talk to anyone else, I’ll slit your throat.’ ”
It never came to that.
“It was amazing. The audience loved it. It brought a whole new audience of women and men, under the age of 50,” Fraser said. Women in their 50s came, driven by nostalgia for the original series. Women in their 20s and 30s came. They had binge-watched Sex and the City during the pandemic.
In the lobby, Fraser said they told him, “`We’ve never been to the theater before. This is the first time we’ve gotten dressed up since COVID and we’re so excited.’ ”
For New York, Bushnell and Latarro shortened the piece to 90 minutes with no intermission.
Fraser will be in Manhattan for the dress rehearsal and opening night, meaning he’ll miss the playhouse’s Friday offering, Taylor Simon King, a musical tribute to James Taylor, Carly Simon, and Carole King.
Through Feb. 22 at the Daryl Roth Theatre, 101 E. 15th St., New York. For information and tickets, darylroththeatre.com, 212-239-6200. Mask and vaccination proof required. For information on shows at the Bucks County Playhouse, 70 S. Main St., New Hope, bcptheater.org, 215-862-2121.
‘Beckett Bites’ at Villanova
Villanova Theatre’s back on stage, this time with Beckett Bites, Four Ruminations on a Return to a Connected World.
Through Nov. 14, in the Court Theatre at the John and Joan Mullen Center for the Performing Arts, 800 E. Lancaster Ave., Villanova. For tickets and information, 610-519-7474, villanovatheatre.org. Masks, vaccines required.
First Person Arts
First Person Arts celebrates its 20th anniversary this week digitally and in-person with a 10-day festival opening Wednesday, Nov. 10. Workshops include a session on storytelling in the workplace and first-person stand-up comedy from SSWANA (South and Southwest Asian and North African). A story slam with Curtis Institute twins musical numbers with first-person related stories.
Through Nov. 20, at various locations and online. For information, tickets, firstpersonarts.org. Vaccination proof and masks required.
‘Matt & Ben’ by Mindy Kaling
Comedian Mindy Kaling coauthored the comedy Matt & Ben, about two Hollywood golden boys, with college pal Brenda Withers. In the original version, written in 2001, Kaling and Withers take on the title roles. In Raw Street Production’s version, staged one week at a restaurant and the next week in a gym, Madison Caudullo and Gianna Lozzi are Matt and Ben.
Nov. 11-13 at Bittersweet Kitchen, 18 S. Orange St., Media. Nov. 19-21 at Plex Fitness Academy, 1231 S. Harmony St. Vaccination proof, mask required. For information and tickets, facebook.com/rawstreetproductions