BWW Reviews: GOOD PEOPLE at Elmwood Playhouse, Nyack
GOOD PEOPLE = GREAT PLAY
Elmwood's new production of GOOD PEOPLE is a wonderful evening of provocative questions about our class system, about the role that luck plays in our successes, and ultimately how much choice we all really have in our lives.
A great play needs great characters and Margie, played with great zeal by Carmela Mondello, is a great character. Hailing from working-class south Boston, Margie is a single mother, has a disabled daughter to look after, and can barely pay her rent. To make matters worse - and to send the play's plot into high gear - Margie gets fired from her job at the Dollar Store for repeated lateness.
Mondello plays Margie with what can only be called desperate restraint. In a panic and seeking work of any kind, but never wanting to impose, she approaches an old flame, Mike, who shared her "southie" upbringing and is now a successful doctor. Margie invades his office, ignoring his repeated failure to return her calls, and it's immediately clear that he is not thrilled to see her. She heatedly tests Mike's contention that, for all his upward mobility, he's still "Mikey from the block." Daniel Charest does a fine job balancing Mike's complex character traits, bringing nuance to Mike's desire not to disturb his current success, while at the same time not forget, or deny his upbringing. This collision of economics and class is at the heart of the story and the central theme of the play.
Angry at Margie's "lace-curtain Irish" description of his new lifestyle, Mike invites her to a birthday party. When the party is cancelled, Margie is offended at what she perceives to be a slight, and decides to crash the party anyway. After she is initially mistaken for a caterer by Mike's uber-intelligent, upper-middle-class, African-American wife Kate (superbly played by Tsebiyah Mishael), the wife falls all over herself to be gracious to Margie. Kate is the closest thing to a sympathetic character in the play and Mishael deftly navigates Kate's subtle and not-so-subtle qualities, providing the only reasonably objective voice in the story. To Mike's great consternation, she asks Margie come in and to share stories about Mikey's rough and tumble past. The story Margie tells creates tension in the family bordering on a meltdown, as true colors are exposed and secrets revealed.
The play is never quite as straightforward as it appears and that is both a strength and a weakness. You expect to find yourself rooting for Margie against Mike, but she continually goes too far and there's a persistent hint of angry vindictiveness that prevents Margie from ever becoming a truly sympathetic figure.
Financial desperation drives a "reasonably" normal person like Margie to some exceedingly nasty behavior, while financial security - or comfort, as he likes to call it - keeps Mike a safe distance from the reality of his upbringing. There are lots of small things wrong with the play but a lot more right things. We are beaten over the head by the playwright's depiction of Margie's ignorance. It is perfectly believable that she might not be familiar with Upton Sinclair, but "Gone With the Wind?" Come on. Playwright Lindsay-Abaire has created a cast of very very human characters complete with baggage, foibles and insecurity by the truckload, however, that very humanity prevents us from rooting for any of the characters as none are clear cut figures. It does however make them extremely complex and always interesting characters; characters that require a top-notch cast to bring to life. This cast is more than equal to the task and director Bobbi Schevitz delicately handles the play's many hurdles with grace and style, never letting the tension level drop for even a minute.
Mondello and Charest have superb chemistry and one almost wishes they would have stayed together after high school. The supporting cast is equally fine, with Donna Fox, Carol Napier, and Damon Fischetti providing much needed comic relief (and "southie" flavor) as Margie's best friend, landlord, and former boss, respectively.
GOOD PEOPLE is a winner. Strongly recommended!
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire / Directed by Bobbi Schevitz.
Running through Saturday December 12th 2015 www.elmwoodplayhouse.com