Fine Performances in “Damaged Goods” a Powerful Drama from 3rd Act Theatre
3rd Act Theatre is presenting “Damaged Goods” written by French dramatist Eugene Brieux and translated by John Pollock. The play has been adapted for the 3rd Act audiences by Denise Hughes who also directs. Written in 1901, “Damaged Goods” or “Les Avariés” in the original French, examines the horrors of syphilis–a disease that ran rampant through all levels of society in the Victorian and Edwardian Era. The problem was due largely to lack of information, people did not know or understand about the disease. Society was constructed on a double standard and innocent wives were getting the disease from cheating husbands who became faithful in marriage yet were reformed rakes who put their behavior behind them risking it all. Men haven’t changed that much in the ensuing decades have they? Although there are numerous scenarios for getting the disease the above was commonplace…the villain of the piece in “Damaged Goods” did his thinking in the nether regions, as young men often do. He tried to do everything right and while that meant behaving like a cad, it didn’t work and he had a difficult time understanding the disease and what to do about it. He married an innocent girl and fathered an innocent child giving them a horrible disease without warning.
“Damaged Goods” was an important piece of theatre for the time period and remained so until the advantages of penicillin were developed to treat the disease. It became a ‘disease of the past’ and since then new diseases have replaced this venereal disease in the public consciousness. AIDS became the horror of society. We are just now ending a pandemic which is horrific and transmitted by air, and there are still venues where a mask is required such as 3rd Act Theatre. It is easy to see how Covid-19 became the central illness to fear, and many other conditions have been ignored. That is what has been happening with syphilis—it’s increasing among todays population at remarkably high rates. We have relaxed our vigilance and that is a mistake. It is unfortunate but that has made this play remarkably relevant today. And young men will always think with the wrong organ, they need education. Young women still trust young men too quickly, and everyone still tries to hide embarrassing conditions. These conditions should not remain hidden until it is too late, but they do with great frequency and our best defense is knowledge.
“Damaged Goods” is a realistic piece and the show is a great drama, with some wonderful comic moments, but the aim of the show is education and that is accomplished with sensitivity and accuracy by a troupe of and hard-working actors. The first act is a bit didactic but the second is performed perfectly succinctly. The urge to strangle the silly villain until he listens to the truth is powerful throughout and the courage and understanding from the doctor is heartwarming. It is interesting and apropos to note that the 3rd Act Theatre is presenting a show where the third act is most important even though it is performed off stage by audience members who understand the first two acts. The 3rd Act is the most important act of all. Learn and pass it on!
The Doctor is played by Ian Clinton. He is attempting to treat and confer with the patient, George, a young man about town who is carefree, charming and capable of great stupidity. George is played by James Coplen with sensitivity and both actors are invested in their role. We see George as a loveable rake, and the good doctor who cares for his patients but cannot get through to this one. Young George is in love, and his love is a selfish one so he marries the girl of his dreams and doesn’t tell her about his illness.
Kendra Buchanan plays Henrietta, the sweet young thing with a ruined life and her father is played with perfect pomposity by Grant Brittan. Her mother is played by Rachel Morgan giving a very emotional performance connecting well with the audience. Kendra Johnson plays a young woman who is not such a sweet young thing, but a good example of the salt of the earth in a young woman doing her best to make her way in a hard world.
“Damaged Goods” is an educational play, meant to instruct rather than entertain, but it is a very powerful drama written with great passion and meant to move viewers to action. And it works very well toward that goal by providing intelligent and moving scenes representing the period beautifully. It is amazing that it is now as relevant as it was in 1901, but it is essential that we never relax our vigilance. Penicillin is a boon but it is not a magical cure, and it certainly does nothing for those who have no idea they have the disease…until it is too late.
Denise Hughes has proved to be a powerful and sensitive director and in this case she adapted the piece clearly functioning as dramaturg as well. She assembled a cast that developed excellent characters from the period that prove timeless adding to the current relevancy of the play. The characters are double cast in some instances and they have created those distinctions that make a difference.
Also, Maddie Wall is invaluable as Assistant Director and Michelle Hall is Stage Manager. The entire crew has put their best foot forward in this production. From set construction by Don Taylor to lighting by Jacey Nichole and sound by Christine Jolly the technical aspects work well. Michelle Hall also handles the props and set dressing and Erin Smith is costumer.
This play is sensitive dealing with subjects that we are confronting daily in our lives such as morality and the social attitudes of the times, poverty and the far-reaching effects that brings in dealing with venereal disease. STI’s as they are called are with us, and it is tempting for many to make judgments, but judgments resolve nothing—education resolves much. Young people feel safe enough to ignore the advice of elders, but elders who specifically warn of the actual dangers with realism and understanding can do a great deal to help in this matter. The numbers are staggering and 3rd Act has thoughtfully provided a representative with pamphlets about the problem. Take a moment to learn from this, as the inspiration to do something is paramount after seeing the passion Eugene Brieux displays and Denise Hughes and cast imparts.
“Damaged Goods” plays April 7, 2023 to April 23, 2023 at 3rd Act Theatre in the Shoppes at North Park Mall located at 12040 N. May Avenue. For tickets and information visit www.3rdActTheatre.com or call the box office at 405-593-8093. This is a show that will impress as well as educate so take full advantage and participate in the vital 3rd Act off stage.