The Golden Smile is controlled, constructed chaos, a perfect orchestration of madness. It is terrifying and marvelous all at once. Theatre of the absurd in a mental hospital.
Seven patients nearly lose their rec room privileges after a Nurse/Messenger (JeVon Blackwell) finds several of them playing pretend war—talking of death and advocating violence as they throw fake grenades at one another.
It upsets and disturbs two patients given to self-harm (Jody Hinkley as Critic 1 and Yasmin Schancer as Critic2). Spurred by the Writer (Andy McCain), they decide instead to draft and stage a play. And we get to follow them through their creative process, which is gritty with a touch of playfulness that makes you both happy and achy.
The Director (Amanda Mason)—who is given to insults while carrying around a stuffed animal—continually antagonizes the Writer while three other patients largely improv scenes that lead to a German-speaking hero (Flynne Harne, the Angry Actor) with a smelly French side-kick (Robert DiDomenico, the Loathing Actor) tying to take down the evil Count Monticullo (Jody Doo, the Sarcastic Actor). Given that the Writer simply tells them to “Say your favorite words,” which are “everywhere. Some on the page. Some out there…”, they develop a surprisingly coherent show called “The Golden Smile.” Not surprising—it has a golden heart, largely because they get one another if no one else does and are bound by their collective love for an unseen, but much discussed, patient named Claude.
McCain, the Writer, spits and sputters his words. He’s a stutterer who believes in hope and the art they are trying to create, while Mason’s Writer pushes his buttons (and everyone else), cursing and using such endearing terms as “ass noodles” to describe the unfolding play. DiDomenico and Harne are comical foils as they don non-traditional headwear and speak faux French and German, respectively, while working out how to find the “Golden Smile” in order to defeat Count Monticullo.
The Golden Smile
Written by Yaakov Bressler
Details and tickets
Jody Doo’s is enigmatic as Monticullo, speaking with Jabberwocky-like syntax, and then as just a girl in a mental hospital, sparring with the Messenger, who throws her across the room on multiple occasions. He’s on edge. Given to fits of range in between moments of calm when he tells the patients to just “enjoy each other’s company.” After he makes amends with Doo, she tells him of her Count Monticullo character that “the reason [she] is ungood is because of some evil in [her] childhood.”
Reminding us that evil is not born. It is made.
But, here, good prevails. The merry group even enfolds Critic 1 (Schancer)—who watches silently from afar most of the show, an antisocial, sensitive girl averse to violence—into the final production. It’s the first time she smiles, genuinely enjoying the company of her mates as she’s been beseeched to do.
Hinkley stays in a straight jacket in a wheel chair the whole show, and I just want to give him a shout-out for staying in character the entire rime despite only having a random, few lines (mostly such things as “Fuck you”).
Did I forget to mention that this is billed as a musical? It’s just that…well, the musical numbers are few and far between and feel less like actual songs (in the traditional sense) and more like random outbursts by the patients. Like when the Director sings an ode to Claude, which simply goes, “Claude, Claude, Claude…”. Albeit with a sweet melody.
The characters don’t have spontaneous moments of clarity while singing, making the song lyrics just as indecipherable as their often ziggy-zaggy conversations. The songs don’t even have titles (as far as I can tell, and there is no listing in the program). While they are a vital part of the show, as each of the five main players sings something, they seemed very secondary to everything else happening on the stage. The few there are are actually very good—especially the one in German sung by Harne—but I walked out of The Golden Smile thinking of it first as a dramedy and only remembering it being billed as a musical when I sat down to write this.
I think The Golden Smile is a show that keeps on giving. And that will keep on giving for a long while—challenging its audience to understand how experience shapes a person (for better of worse) because, you know, “Fiction is real.” I couldn’t agree more.
The Golden Smile . Written by Yaakov Bressler. Directed by Joey Stamp. Music by Zach Stamp. Featuring Andy McCain, Amanda Mason, JeVonn Todd Blackwell, Flynne Harne, Robert DiDomenico, Jody Doo, Jody Hinkley, Yasmin Schancer. Muscians: Michael Stamp (Pianist and Arranger), Chris Lano (saxophone), Gaby Baez (Bass), and Rory Dennis (audio Engineer). Production: Conor Moore (Production Manager), Sidney Junk (Stage Manager), Rivkah Spolin (Costume Design), Carrie Pieper (Props Design and Wardrobe Manager), Conor Moore (Lighting Designer), Devorah Merkin (Assistant Director) . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.