Trash talkKerry Reidon September 14, 2022 at 4:37 pm

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Lindsay Joelle’s The Garbologists, now in a local premiere at Northlight under Cody Estle’s direction, is a slice-of-life two-hander about an odd-couple pair of New York sanitation workers. Marlowe (Tiffany Renee Johnson) is a Black woman with multiple degrees in art history from Columbia. Danny (Luigi Sottile) is a brash motormouth white man from Staten Island, bent on showing off his street smarts to the new hire with garbage-collector inside jokes about “disco rice” (maggots) and “urban whitefish” (used condoms), as well as “mongo” (the trash that the collectors repurpose for themselves; one of those items becomes a plot point). Over 90 minutes of short scenes, played out on Collette Pollard’s cunning set (including a facsimile of the business end of a garbage truck), the two come to understand some things about the detritus of each other’s lives as well as that of the strangers along their route.

The GarbologistsThrough 10/2: Wed 1 and 7:30 PM, Thu 7:30 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 2:30 and 8 PM, Sun 2:30 PM; sensory-friendly performance Wed 9/21 7:30 PM, captioned performance Fri 9/23 8 PM, open caption and audio description Sat 9/24 2:30 PM, Northlight Theatre, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, 847-673-6300, northlight.org, $30-$89

It’s a good-hearted piece, with exceptionally fine performances from Johnson and Sottile, but the revelations feel a little too forced and contrived to carry the narrative weight for the show. The small off-the-cuff jokes and exasperated reactions from Sottile and Johnson, respectively, offer comfort-food familiarity for anyone who has been stuck in a small space for hours with someone they’re not sure they want to get to know better. I just wish that Joelle’s story had taken a few more risks, rather than relying on what ultimately feels like a formulaic approach to unpacking the messy black plastic bags of personal loss for Marlowe and Danny.

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