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  • Angela Allyn

Cleaning Up at Northlight

According to the show notes for Northlight Theatre's new production of The Garbologists, working in sanitation is the sixth most dangerous job in America, riskier than fire fighting and law enforcement. A global pandemic made all of us acutely aware of essential workers, but that focus may not include nearly invisible trash collectors, where in some cultures the task renders the worker “untouchable”. Playwright Lindsay Joelle is not the first artist to do a deep dive into municipal trash hauling: since 1977 the performance and conceptual artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles has been the artist in residence for the New York City Department of Sanitation where her largest piece, Touch Sanitation, had her meet and thank every single member of the 8500 member staff.

This 125 minute two person show has a rookie and a senior member of the sanitation staff out on rounds and they are an unlikely pair. Marlowe is a highly educated black woman who is coping with loss and grief and Danny is a stereotypical muni worker with a complicated personal life. They both have history and baggage and are trying to work out their lives. In the able hands of actors Tiffany Renee Johnson and Luigi Sottile these two become rich characters who grow and shift as the play goes on, coming to understand and empathize with one another. Joelle sprinkles surprises, and gems of wisdom throughout the script leaving much for the audience to discover, and there is a lot to laugh about as the character’s days unwind. This is the kind of deep, thoughtful and entertaining theater Chicagoland is famous for. And I promise you will think differently about your trash and the people who deal with it differently after this show.

Director Cody Estle has given us a chance to really like these characters, and set designer Collette Pollard has created a world both gritty and compelling for us to experience– you can almost smell the mountain of trash. The two part garbage truck is a stage design engineering triumph.

This is moving and entertaining theatre worth heading to Skokie to enjoy. The Garbologists is playing at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Boulevard in Skokie in the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Tuesdays through Sundays until October 2, 2022. For tickets and information go to


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