Inside an unassuming storefront somewhere in Queens is a woman you wouldn’t notice if you saw her on the street. The drape, fit and feel of clothes are her passion and her living, but her own outfit is pallid, frumpy — a kind of camouflage.
This is Agata, who at 64 is a self-taught tailor with the skill of an artist and an unforgiving eye. When her apprentice, Janice, shows off a photo of her new fiancé, the unevenness of his pant legs is a flagrant red flag.
“If you’re ignorant on pants, you’ll be ignorant on wife,” says Agata, a brusque Russian immigrant who married the same man twice by the time she hit 30, divorced him for good, then built an independent life. “Why you wanna take care of this loser?”
In Christina Masciotti’s keen and unflashy new play, “No Good Things Dwell in the Flesh,” Kellie Overbey gives a beautifully supple, subtle performance as Agata — a survivor whose wariness of men and their havoc is a defining stance, like her willingness to reject customers if she disagrees with their requests.
In a dozen overworked years, she has had only one vacation. So maybe it’s weariness that makes her hope that the talented but unserious Janice (Carmen Zilles) — a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology who already has a business degree — could be a worthy successor, someone Agata might simply give her thriving business to.
Directed by Rory McGregor at A.R.T./New York Theaters in Manhattan — with a bit less atmospheric poeticism than the script aims for — “No Good Things” is interested in what it means to lose a business that has quietly woven itself into the fabric of a neighborhood. That’s a resonant concern these days, as so many urban storefronts sit vacant.
Masciotti, who based Agata on a tailor she met in Astoria, Queens, is also characteristically drawn here to the richness of language, Agata’s in particular. As when she tells Janice, “The heart shape is kind of my enemy shape.” Or when she orders Vlad (T. Ryder Smith), the handsome but unstable ex who tracks Agata down: “Stop creating all this situation.”
The night I saw the show, much of the audience was so busy enjoying Smith’s performance that they didn’t notice the danger in Vlad — even though he tells Agata, moments into their reunion, that it takes just 30 seconds to knock a woman out. Agata, who cares about him still, wants only to keep her distance from him, and from men in general. Thus, I think, her dowdy get-up, hiding her form. (Costumes are by Johanna Pan.)
That’s another thing this play is about, though: the siren song of men and coupledom. Agata has spent her whole adult life trying not to get shipwrecked on those rocks.
No Good Things Dwell in the Flesh
Through Sept. 23 at A.R.T./New York Theaters, Manhattan; christinamasciotti.com. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes.