Two mad men vent their rage and the reasons in the dark comedy ‘Garbageman’ off Broadway at the Chain Theatre

Emmy-nominated stage and screen writer Keith Huff (TV’s Mad Men, House of Cards, and American Crime; Broadway’s A Steady Rain starring Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig) returns to the Chain Theatre with the four-week limited engagement of his world-premiere dark comedy Garbageman. Combining a ridiculous spirit of laughable over-the-top toxic masculinity with serious suggestions of what drives it, the two-hander takes an individual look at the current state of an angry conservative middle America that manifested in the insurrectionist Capitol Riots of January 6, 2021.

Deven Anderson and Kirk Gostkowski. Photo by David Zayas Jr.

Huff’s writing is at once farcical and insightful, as it follows the “murky friendship” of Dan Bandana and Buddy Maple – two 30-something former bottom-of-the-class high-schoolmates in a suburb of Chicago, who lose touch then keep finding their way back to each other when they need to. And they need to now. It’s early December 2020; Buddy wants to get a gun and Dan has a big collection. The long and twisted story of why is at the center of this riotous plot of murder, revenge, and a weird and desperate camaraderie that makes headline news and history in the worst possible way.

Directed by Greg Cicchino, Deven Anderson as Buddy and Kirk Gostkowski (the Chain’s Artistic Director) as Dan bring the sardonic laughs and the underlying agony of these lonely struggling working-class anti-heroes, as they share the wild details of their unsuccessful lives, troubled marriages, and fatal mistakes, drink and get high, fight and pledge their help and loyalty to one another, and conceive convoluted plans to take out their antagonists (or maybe themselves?) at home and in DC.

Anderson captures the equivocal cluelessness of the stuttering and stammering Buddy, the titular garbageman (his one-time job, not his identity) who has a strange ongoing connection to heads (no spoilers here, but YIKES!). Gostkowski balances the take-charge strength and grit of the big bandana-wearing Dan on the outside with the pain he feels on the inside, which comes to the surface in private conversations with Buddy and results in public attention that he can’t escape, even though he tries.

Deven Anderson and Kirk Gostkowski. Photo by David Zayas Jr.

Along with all the uproariously bad behavior and outrageous plot points that keep you laughing out loud while shaking your head, comes the reality of alienation and failure, socio-economic stagnation and an ingrained lack of self-esteem that ultimately bring an unexpected understanding and empathy to the characters. These men are the products of childhood abuse and neglect, the lack of a college education that might have offered them greater opportunity and enlightenment, and a culture that judges them without knowing them or their background – and they’re tired of it. So what could we expect from them? Pretty much what is parodied here.

The biting humor and engaging performances are supported by funny fight choreography by Nick Fondulis, original pop music by Larry Lange and Mike Lorello that sets the contemporary tone, costumes by Christina Perry that define the characters (with Buddy being a bit better groomed than the more slovenly Dan), and suitable lighting by Michael Abrams and sound by Greg Russ.

The set design by Richard Hoover and Kis Knekt evokes the expectedly modest and messy digs of Dan, but could use some reworking, with long cumbersome transitions between the scenes that add to the already lengthy running time of the play (which would also benefit from some tightening), and tumbledown faux-walls constructed of painted cardboard boxes that look like what they are, not what they’re intended to be. But the multiple TV screens are a significant element that add to our comprehension of Dan, how he was raised, where he learned, and what offered him exposure to others.

In signature style, Huff’s new work is both entertaining and provocative, with a message behind the acerbic wit of Garbageman. It’s a show worth seeing.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes, including an intermission.

Garbageman plays through Saturday, April 16, at the Chain Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, 4th floor, NYC. For tickets (priced at $25), go online. Audience members must wear a mask when inside the theater.


    • No, I don’t know anyone in it or on the creative team, but I think it addressed a significant theme with dark humor, empathy, and compelling performances. I’m sorry you didn’t like it.


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