‘Minding Goodman’ good idea, poor execution

‘Minding Goodman’ good idea, poor execution

Jeff Favre

Just what is normal when it comes to human behavior?

Some might consider a mentally challenged person abnormal or less capable of a fulfilling life than someone with an average IQ.

By adding a science-fiction fantasy twist, playwright and director Art Brown delves into the concept of being normal and its relevance to happiness for his “Minding Goodman,” which is premiering at the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica.

The fantasy scenario added to this quiet drama is, “What if by placing tiny robots into the brain of a mentally challenged person, you could dramatically increase his intelligence?”

Though the plot echoes a bit from the Daniel Keyes’ “Flowers for Algernon,” the premise is enticing in its originality and its promise for building controversial philosophical arguments. But while several interesting topics are raised, “Minding Goodman” is rarely elevated beyond movie-of-the-week melodrama. Despite a solid lead performance by Eric Scott Woods it offers few revelations or surprises.

The plot revolves around mentally challenged husband and wife Danny and Cheryl Goodman (Woods and Darcy Halsey), who have their 19- month-old baby taken away by Helen (Annie Abbott), a social services agent, after he nearly drowns in the bathtub.

Helen recruits Andrea (Janet Gunn), a psychologist, to conduct a fitness report on their parenting skills, which she decides aren’t solid enough to keep their baby.

Ironically, Andrea’s ex-husband, Dr. Stephen Mills (Christopher B. Duncan), has been working with nanotechnology that could, among other miracles, end all mental disabilities. And after much deliberation, he agrees to perform the operation on Danny, with the hope that his intelligence would allow the Goodmans to get their child back.

Brown has painted a realistic portrait of a mentally challenged couple, and their scenes are heartfelt and playful. But the rest of the scenes in the nearly two-hour play are loaded with clich-filled arguments about playing God and doing what’s best for the child. Plus, Andrea is carrying a secret that stretches the bounds of believability. Brown rarely strays from the obvious conclusions, nor does he fully explore the ramifications of what this type of operation would create.

And as a director, his plodding pace creates stilted dialogue, which he usually accompanies with awkward movement for his actors.

Woods is the saving grace of the production. He moves from a man with the intelligence of a 5th grader, slowly increasing to that of a high school student, all without ever over-acting or straining believability.

Halsey relies a little too heavily on physical ticks and speech impairment, but her sincerity meshes well with Woods’ portrayal.

The script could use more comic relief. The rare bits of humor are provided by Nick Arquette, who portrays a Phil Donahue-like talk show host.

Even if Brown’s first attempt at “Minding Goodman” mostly misses the mark, the idea remains intriguing. Rewrites could lead to a play worthy of this fascinating topic.

Jeff Favre is a freelance entertainment writer based in Los Angeles.Stage Review

“Minding Goodman” plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays through June 27 at the Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. Tickets are $28, $23 for students and seniors. Information: 310-392-7327 or www.mindinggoodman.com.

Copyright Copley Press Inc. 2004

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