The vaulted arch, pew-like benches and orders of service provide an immersive setting for Good Women, inviting the audience to form the congregation at an “evangelical dance prayer-athon”. The pre-show period is quite meditative, as the three performers sit in a circle on stage in their white dresses, eyes closed, surrounded by candles and flowers. But, while Good Women does have strong themes of self-reflection, it turns out to be a high-energy, high-emotion piece - which ridicules as much as sympathising with its characters, mostly through the humour of pain.
Kathryn, Madeline and Morgan have travelled far to take part in a liturgical dance competition, hoping to win a place on the “elite angels” team of the Good Women Evangelical Church. The church’s mantra labels them “sullied women”, who must thank God for the opportunity to redeem themselves through devotion and purity. The cast do particularly well at portraying their different characters through the physical medium of dance: Kathryn is self-confident, Morgan fiercely determined, and Madeline desperate.
A lot of the dialogue is spoken very quickly and emotively, making it difficult to distinguish the words at times. But the pressure and expectations the girls feel to perform well - both in the dance and in their behaviour - is painfully clear. They don’t do themselves any favours in their treatment of each other, and it’s obvious we are meant to find their flaws and their instability funny.
And, indeed, the rest of the audience laughed throughout. A few of the jokes did land with me (“Morgan, do you know what lust is?” “Lust is how sinners survive the Canadian winter.”) But I don’t find trauma and self-hatred funny, and watching desperate characters struggle isn’t entertaining to me.
There’s an abrupt shift in tone towards the end, which brings the characters closer together, but for me the transition isn’t prefaced by enough of a foundation for it to feel earned. The show seems to rely on cheap jokes at the expense of its damaged protagonists, and I’d rather laugh with than at them. As I’ve said, I was clearly in a minority with that view, and the man sitting next to me commented that he thought the show was “lots of fun”. But I mostly just found it very sad.