BWW Reviews: GOOD PEOPLE in Stratford

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With its deft direction by Tom Holehan and flawless cast, David Lindsay-Abaire's play, "Good People" nails the tough issues of class, social mobility and poverty in today's America.

The play on its own addresses some important topics, but the main characters are complex and the right casting is key. The play takes place in blue collar South Boston (Southie) and ritzy Chestnut Hill. It opens as 20something Stevie (Darius James Copland) is forced to fire Margaret/Margie, pronounced with a hard "g") (Janet Rathert) for repeatedly being late for her job at the Dollar Store. Margie tries hard to keep her job. She explains that her adult daughter is severely retarded and her landlady doesn't always show up to keep an eye on her. She offers to take a pay cut. No dice. Margie's landlady, Dottie (Alice McMahon) and friend, Jean (Danielle Sultini) suggest other options, including visiting her ex-boyfriend, Mike (Brian Michael Riley), who moved back to the Boston area. They suggest telling him that when he left to go to college, she was pregnant with their daughter.

Here's where things get complicated. Mike, once a rowdy, mischievous youth, got out of Southie and became a successful fertility specialist. Margie approaches him for a job. After he casually mentions that his wife is throwing a birthday party him on the weekend, she urges him into invite her so that she can scout out a job lead. He agrees, but later calls her to tell her that the party was cancelled because his daughter was sick. Margie doesn't believe him and comes to his house anyway. It's big, and so is Margie's mouth as she made comments about his lifestyle. "I worked my ass off," Mike defends himself, but there was more to it than that. He married up, not just out of his class, but out of his race, and he is somewhat embarrassed by how he achieved his success. His wife, Kate (Jessica Meyers), is the daughter of his medical school mentor. A gifted professor of literature in her own right, Kate is also exceptionally pretty, kind, fun, unpretentious, perceptive, and painfully aware that her husband is keeping secrets from her and does not really appreciate her. Margie picks up on this and tries her friends' suggestion. He doesn't believe her. She takes it back. She reminds him that his father happened to look out the window and intervene while he was physically assaulting an African-American youth. Margie and Mike end up nowhere in their dispute, but that's not the point of the play.

The play is a long discussion about who is nice, who is mean, who is soft, who is hard, who gets to succeed, who gets to struggle, how much luck is involved, and how much hard work counts - a topic that affects almost everyone, regardless of age and educational background, struggling. She could have been a lawyer or accountant and in the same boat. There are many middle-aged lawyers, accountants and other professionals who were laid off from Fortune 500 companies that were nearly driven to bankruptcy because of poor executive decisions. Who is good? Who is bad?

Rathert gets that, and she plays Margie with a compelling and plausible combination of despair and resignation. Riley is her perfect foil, trying to hide his secrets and justify his good fortune. Copland is likeable as the empathetic Dollar Store supervisor who has to do what he must in order to keep his own job. Sultini is excellent, even though her character could have been more fleshed out by the playwright. McMahon plays the self-serving landlady to the hilt. Myers is ideally cast as Kate. She is a find, with a strong yet graceful stage presence and a beautiful speaking voice.

Kudos also to Clifford Fava for the state lighting and to Greg Fairbend and Robert Mastroni for doing a lot with a minimalist set. BTW, the stage furniture is for sale after the show closes on March 21. How brilliant is that for a theatre company to help defray its costs?

Speaking of tough times, Square One Theatre is looking for a new venue for its main performances next season. The company still has a secondary venue at the Stratford Library and presents staged readings in other area libraries and venues. Meanwhile, mark your calendars for the Friends of Square One's annual spring luncheon to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the company. It will be held on Thursday, April 23 at noon at Mill River Country Club in Stratford. Tickets are just $30.00 per person, so there is no excuse not to RSVP to (203) 394-1969. After that, see Square One's production of Terrence Rattigan's "The Winslow Boy" from May 15-May 30.

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From This Author Sherry Shameer Cohen