Sunday, May 31, 2015

Theater Review: Good People -- TheaterWorks

Buddy Haardt, Erika Rolfsrud, Megan Byrne and Audrie Neenan. Photo by Lanny Nagle
Good Performances, Good Script, Good Staging Combine for a Really Good Good People
By Lauren Yarger
Good People at Theaterworks offers a sharp script (by Pulitzer-Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire), excellent performances, taught direction and even some nifty projections to offer a really good theater experience – one where you can just sit back and enjoy.

Welcome to South Boston. Luke Hegel-Cantarella creates the multiple sets along with some fast moving projections of photos that put us in the neighborhood (and the gallery upstairs at City Arts on Pearl offers photos from the area). It’s not an easy place to be. Most of the inhabitants of the tough working class neighborhood are just trying to get by.

Margaret (Erika Rolfsrud) is fired from her cashier job at a dollar Store after showing up late again because her landlord, Dottie (Audrie Neenan), who watches “Margy”s mentally-challenged adult daughter, didn’t show up on time this morning. Desperate, she pleads with her boss, Stevie (Buddy Haardt) to keep her on, even at entry-level wages, but the son of one of her best friends growing up there in “Southie” has his own career to think about and refuses.

At their regular bingo session, Dottie says she might have to give Margaret’s apartment to her son if she can’t come up with the rent. Bingo mate Jean (a very funny Megan Byrne) says that she just ran into old school chum Mike (Tate Donovan), now a doctor, who has done well for himself. He’s what the Southies would call a “lace curtain,” –someone who is wealthy -- and Jean suggests Margy contact her old boyfriend about a job.

She barges into his office, but Mike isn’t hiring and isn’t all too happy to be reminded of his less sophisticated roots. In the course of conversation, he mentions that his wife is throwing him a birthday party and after a verbal game of chicken, Margaret wins an invite. After all, some of the folks attending might be hiring, Mike suggests. When he calls to cancel, she assumes that he just doesn’t want her there and decides to call his bluff and show up any way.

When she arrives on the doorstep of the elegant, upscale suburban Mike’s African-American wife, Kate (Chandra Thomas) thinks the caterer has come to clear tables for the party which really was canceled when their daughter became ill. Mike isn’t too happy to see her, especially since he‘s never told his wife, with whom he has been in marriage counseling, about his past relationship with Margaret. Kate’s excited, however, by the possibility of hearing stories about her husband and his old neighborhood, about which he’s been very silent, and she invites Margy to stay for an impromptu wine-and-cheese party.

The polite conversation soon turns nasty with hints of blackmail and questions about the paternity of Margaret’s daughter. What becomes the most intriguing question is: just who are the “good people” here? It might not be whom you think.

Director Rob Ruggiero sets excellent timing and pace and positions characters to enhance the tension. He elicits excellent performances, especially from Rolfsrud who conveys Margaret's tough exterior and kind interior. One criticism: the Bingo players are dotting their cards way too often.

It’s just fun to sit back and watch this slice of life. Kate is na├»ve, but not too much; Jean is scathing, but there is touch of heart to her; Dottie is a sweet old lady, but there’s selfishness under the surface; Stevie seems uncaring, but proves he’s “good people”; Margaret is desperate, but her morals and good character triumph; and Mike appears to have it all, but might be the one who really is lacking everything.

Chalk up those terrific character developments, all played wonderfully by the actors,  to Lindsay-Abaire, who never fails to satisfy with his probing, funny, well written scripts (Rabbit Hole, Wonder of the World for the stage and a number of screenplays, including “Robots,” “Inkheart” and “Poltergeist.”)

Good People plays at Theaterworks,  233 Pearl St., Hartford through June 28. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 pm; Fridays at 8 pm;  Saturday 2:30 and 8 pm; Sunday 2:30. Tickets $15-$65; 860-527-7838;

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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