In the shadow of the Vikings stadium sits the First Covenant Church of Minneapolis, home to the Good Arts Collective, and recently the public performance of Swandive Theater’s latest production. (Full disclosure, Swandive is run by Meg DiSciorio and her husband Damon Runnals, who is the editor of Minnesota Playlist.) At the show, a representative of the Good Arts Collective stated that the mission of First Covenant Church is to promote human flourishing. It’s a lovely idea, and spoke to the play I had just seen. The siblings at the heart of Dorothy Fortenberry’s Good Egg clash over what it means for a child to flourish, and whether trying to prevent pain will also stifle their joy.
When responsible older sister Meg (Erin Roberts) decides to have a child alone through IVF, she leans on her brother Matt (Bryan Grosso) for support. Things become heated as she gets ready to select the embryo for implantation. When Matt discovers that Meg will be using a newly developed (and currently fictional) test to screen specifically for bipolar disorder, he takes extreme personal offense as someone with the disorder himself. “You’re trying to delete me from our family,” he accuses.
This crisis forces them to confront their own painful family memories, digging up long buried resentments and secrets along the way. The easy chemistry that Roberts and Grosso have built as siblings gets turned into fuel for their fight. No one can hurt you like someone who knows you and loves you, and both people say things that cannot be unsaid.
It’s a tour de force for both actors, who are tasked with a harrowing emotional journey over the play’s 80 minute run. Roberts is warm, witty, and vulnerable throughout. She opens the play by inviting us into her womb, for a surprisingly heartfelt examination of hysteria. I also appreciated how her gestures took on a more gynecological bent while she stood within her metaphorical womb. Grosso is a powerful charm bomb. His body practically vibrates with energy as the show progresses. The two feed off each other well and ably carry the show.
While the leads were well matched, the argument seemed a bit less balanced. The script doesn’t give Meg much of a chance to explain herself, though one can infer her fears from their family struggle. Matt on the other hand, gets the opportunity to wax poetic about the highs he feels in throes of his mania and his wild adventures with his bipolar father. “Who will show her the stars?” he asks. “Who will show her it’s okay to be a little crazy?” It was evocative and beautifully written, but it felt uncomfortably romanticized to me.
Maybe the actions of the play are supposed to temper these whimsical notions. Matt’s memories of his manic-pixie-dream-dad are in stark comparison to his eventual tragedy. In the midst of his most florid defense of the bipolar geniuses of the past, he gets worked up and accidentally hurts Meg. But, these moments didn’t land with enough to power to overcome the starry eyed notions of beautiful mania presented earlier in the piece. As a neurotypical person with little firsthand experience with bipolar disorder, I may be off base, but it took me a bit out of the play.
The timeline also got a little muddled for me, and that affected how I saw the progression of Matt’s disordered behavior. It wasn’t always clear how much time had passed during the monologues. One of Matt’s early scenes where he’s furiously working on a project was staged on the floor. In the small space with my small height, I couldn’t see any of it, so some of that storytelling didn’t come through for me.
This staging will likely not be an issue in other runs of the show, as this is mostly performed to small crowds in actual living rooms as part of Swandive’s Living Room Tour. It’s a good choice for the tour and the intimacy of the piece can only be enhanced by the intimacy of the venue. The power of this play comes from the actor’s performances, and the pain and love they reveal to each other through the course of these life changing conversations. Audiences too, will walk away with lots to talk about.