Thursday, February 14, 2013

theatre review GOOD PEOPLE, George St. Playhouse, Feb. 10

David Lindsay-Abaire's Tony nominated play Good People is a contemporary play that portrays a slice of life that touches upon the modern day class cycle and how the loss of a job can force someone to do some things that they might not have done otherwise.  It is also the story of a life that none of us would hope to ever live.

Ellen McLaughlin, Zakiya Young and John Bolger
 The play is set in South Boston or "Southie," a working class neighborhood where Margie, a single mother in her late 40's, is about to be fired from her cashier job at the local dollar store.  She's a minimum waged employee who's been fired because she has been late too many times.  But she has an adult daughter at home who's caretaker was late getting to her, so Margie has a good reason for why she's been late to work.  But it doesn't matter, she is let go anyway.  You like Margie, she's had a tough life and has tried to make the best of it, living within the lines and rules she's been given.  She barely complains and is desperately trying to find a job, any job, that will help her pay her rent and care for her daughter.  A chance meeting with Mike, a former high school boyfriend who is now a well off Doctor, sets in motion the plot of the play which focuses not only on Margie hopefully finding a job but to also get some answers about what would have happened if she and Mike hadn't broken up. 

Marianne Owen, Ellen McLaughlin
 and Cynthia Lauren Tewes
It is a play about the choices that people make and how they ultimately effect the people around them as well as the friends who become our family and life support system when times get bad.  It is extremely funny and moving as well.  I don't want to say much more about the plot as there are plenty of twists and revelations in it, but Lindsay-Abaire has written an interesting story that while it may come across as a bit like a soap opera, it has such rich characters and realistic dialogue and situations that you can imagine that there really are people like Margie and Mike out there who are living through similar situations. 

The title refers to how we often say that someone is "good people" to say that they have good character and upbringing.  But by the end of the play we realize that even people who we might think are "good people" may not be and that has to do with the way that Lindsay-Abaire has made almost all of the characters into both villains and heroes.  It is a fascinating choice but correct in dealing with a modern story as it accurately shows how everyone of us has a good side as well as a bad one.  I especially liked how even the smaller role of Stevie, the young man who has to fire Margie, that we don't really like, comes back in the play in an important and positive way at the end.

Lindsay-Abaire also has his characters accurately portray the constantly changing roles that people assume in the various scenes including one where Margie comes to visit Mike at his office.  She is desperately hoping he has a job for her, even willing to do janitorial work in his office, but the tables turn with Margie using her wit and words in getting the upper hand in the conversation and an invitation to his upcoming birthday party where there might be job opportunities from his friends that will be there.  The scene ends with Margie assuming control, even sitting in Mike's office chair.  It is an effective scene like every other one in this production that is well directed by David Saint. 

Ellen McLaughlin and Eric Reidmann
 The cast for this production is top-notch with Ellen McLaughlin simply amazing as Margie.  She breaks your heart with her desperation.  Her ability to get across Margie's way of using non-stop talking to get out of any situation is perfectly played as well as her sense of pride.  Margie is "good people" for sure.  McLaughlin also has a perfect use of comic timing for Margie's sense of humor that Margie never loses through it all and she also pulls off an impressive Boston accent.

John Bolger as Mike is the villain of the story, or is he?  Bolger first comes across as the cocky guy who got out of the neighborhood to make something of himself and we believe he doesn't really want anything to do with Margie or really try to help her get a job.  But we soon realize we may not exactly be correct in the way we think about Mike, though once Margie pushes him his sense of fear and anger comes forth.  Bolger does a good job in balancing the various layers of the character with his controlled sense of anger especially effective.  Zakiya Young as Mike's younger wife also is excellent in getting across this woman who is very interested to talk to Margie and learn more about Mike's past, a past she seems that he has kept much of it from her.  She welcomes Margie into her home with open arms, including forcing wine and cheese on her but she quickly defends her family once Margie starts to reveal some truths about Mike's past in the hard Southie neighborhood.  Again, Young gets across the hero and villain aspects of every character.

Three members of the cast are from the Seattle area, due to this being a co-production with the Seattle Repertory Theatre.  All three are excellent, which goes to show the calibre of actors working in regional theatres.  Marianne Owen is Margie's friend who gets Margie thinking about how she can use Mike to her advantage and Cynthia Lauren Tewes is Margie's landlady and caretaker of her daughter.  Both have great comic timing and have no problem navigating the quick witted dialogue while maintaining perfect Boston accents.  Eric Reidmann is the Dollar Store manager who fires Margie, and his soft spoken delivery is perfect for this character who seems almost as lost as everyone else in the play.

James Youman's set design is extremely effective, not only with a fairly elaborate set for Mike's house but also through the effective use of sliding panels and moving projections that give us a sense of traveling to the various locations within the Boston area.  David Murin's costume design couldn't be better, with Margie's party attire that includes an outdated leather skirt and a tear in her stockings pretty much summing up Margie to a t.

This is another excellent production from the George Street and Artistic Director David Saint.

This production of Good People runs at The George Street through February 24th before moving to Seattle for a March 8th to March 31st run.

George Street Playhouse Site

Seattle Repertory Site

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