BWW Reviews: GOOD PEOPLE Does Good for the Fulton Theatre
It's a play. It's by David Lindsay-Abaire. It contains a handful of people, mostly female, and it pulled at least two Tony nominations, winning for lead actress. Is it RABBIT HOLE, from 2007 (for which Cynthia Nixon won a Tony)? No, it's GOOD PEOPLE, which won a Tony for Frances McDormand, from 2011, which ran a limited engagement (read "did not run nearly long enough") and is, alas, best known from its Broadway run as the play which stopped dead one night when an audience member who had failed to silence her cell phone actually took the call while in the audience, and the cast stopped dead in their tracks. It's a shame that the phone call anecdote is the best-known thing about a recent theatrical award winner, because, while GOOD PEOPLE is perhaps not a great show, it is, like the people it depicts, a good one. It was good enough to win the Critics Circle award for Best Play in 2010-2011, and it's good enough to be worth an evening at the Fulton. Directed by Bernard Harvard of the Walnut Street Theatre, it's perhaps not the Fulton's greatest drama production ever, but, once again, it's a good one.
It's true that the choices we make affect our lives, as Mike, the doctor, played by Dan Olmstead, reminds our anti-heroine, Margie - playEd Strongly by Fulton veteran Julie Czarnecki. It's also true, as Margie, the South Boston, or "Southie", lifer, reminds him, that everyone doesn't always have a choice. Some people have the chance, like Mike, to escape lower-class and working-class surroundings; some, like Margie, don't. But Margie's tough - she's a survivor, unlike another high school friend who's recently died on the mean neighborhood streets. So when Stevie (Jered McLenigan), old buddy and Margie's boss at the dollar store where she works, is ordered by the regional manager to fire her, you're sure she'll find some way to land on her feet.
If this story line - mean streets, dead friends, the question of whether escape from your surroundings is possible - sounds grim, it's certainly tempered with fine moments of incidental levity. Much of that levity comes from Margie's two friends, survivors themselves. Dottie, played by Sharon Alexander (the role was played by Estelle Parsons on Broadway), is Margie's friend, landlady, and babysitter of Joyce, Margie's adult but disabled child. Dottie has a vested interest in seeing Margie make it, since she wants Margie's rent money - and the threat is that otherwise, Dottie will move her son into Margie's downstairs apartment. Dottie is also a craftswoman, if that's the term for women who make rabbit figures by gluing Styrofoam balls, bunny ears, and "googly eyes" to inverted clay flowerpots. She makes money selling the rabbits at various places, including the all-important neighborhood Catholic church bingo game. Jean, her other friend, closer to Margie's age, is portrayed with a vengeance by Denise Whelan, last seen at the Fulton as Mama Rose in GYPSY. Dottie and Jean are both caustic wits, especially when they have a chance to turn those wits upon each other, and their comic byplay at Margie's apartment and in the bingo hall is the great highlight of this production.
If there's a star in this show, however, besides Czarnecki, it's undoubtedly the sets. Robert Klingelhoefer has created a revolving stage, not normally used in a smaller drama such as this, with perfectly thought-out sets, particularly Mike's Chestnut Hill living room and Margie's apartment. But even the minimalist dollar store dock area and the equally minimalist bingo hall evoke precisely what they are, and every prop contributes a needed element to the show, from the bingo daubers to the vase on Mike's fireplace mantel. And that vase gets a workout when Margie comes to visit Mike at his escaped-from-South-Boston home in upscale Chestnut Hill and begins the conversation Mike fears, with his much younger and decidedly un-Southie wife, Kate (Danielle G. Herbert, in her first and, one hopes, not last Fulton appearance). As Kate has never met any of Mike's old friends from the neighborhood before, Mike is forced through the revelations of his history just as Margie is forced to remember their joint history in front of Kate.