Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Unicorn "Good People" review by Piddums

Good People is Good Theater Rating: 5

Good People
Unicorn Theatre

David Lindsay-Abair conceived of Good People as a kind of love letter to the people of Boston, particularly the dwellers of the south side, the Southies. And to those dwelling outside the confines of New England, it may not seem, on the surface, to be much love there. The Southies are depicted as loudmouths, often intentionally cruel, pessimistic, crude and generally obnoxious. It's a fairly accurate depiction of blue collar Bostonians. But the author's affection for the people of the south end sounds loudly all through this little slice of life play and makes it a something you want to put at the top of your must-see list.

Times are hard (or "hahd", as the accents put it) for blue collar Boston. The first time we see Margie Walsh (Jan Rogge) she's getting fired from her job at the Dollar General by Stevie (Philip Russell Newman) a man many years her junior. She's drawn the attention of the district managers for chronic lateness, stemming from her caring for an adult retarded daughter. She begs for her job, a cause that isn't helped by her constantly retelling an embarrassing anecdote about Stevie's mother. Or her informing him that everyone thinks he's gay (because he plays bingo.) But she's just run out of chances and Stevie has to let her go. We next see her in her apartment with her friends Dottie (also her landlady and babysitter, played by Kathleen Warfel) and Jean (Manon Halliburton), both being spectacularly unhelpful and predicting nothing but doom and destitution. Dottie even hints darkly about eviction. The one ray of hope is the possibility of help from Mike (Scott Cordes), Margie's ex, who's now a successful doctor.

When she goes to visit Mike in his office, to ask for a job, I started thinking how this was a very well written play. He has no job for her, but ends up inviting her to a party at his Chestnut Hill home. This comes about mainly due to an extended period of sparring between Margie, the girl who stayed in Southie, and Mike, the lace-curtain Bostonian who moved on to greener pastures. Their past, his unwillingness to be thought of as a snob, and their simple game of one-upping causes Mike to invite her in spite of his reservations. Margie, hoping to find a job from one of Mike's rich friends accepts the invitation, in spite of her own reservations. Later, when an illness causes the party to be cancelled, Margie assumes she's been uninvited and decides to go anyway. Once there, she finds no party but meets Kate (Diane Yvette), Mike's beautiful, young, upscale wife, who's fascinated to meet someone from her husband's unknown past. The three chat, pleasantly for a while, before events from the past turn the evening ugly.

Mark Robbins directed and he is an actor's director. The performances are tremendous all the way through. Top honors go to Manon Halliburton and Kathy Warfel as Margie's two closest friends. Halliburton and Warfel are treasures of the Kansas City stage and one of the delights of the theater right now is watching the timing and interplay between them as they make these two profane and often despicable women likeable. The scenes they share at bingo with the fabulous Rogge and wonderful Newman (poor Stevie always seems to get stuck at their table) as they hurl abuse at each other is one of the prime delights of Good People.

Scott Cordes shows his range as an upper class doctor who shed his past with determination. Coming off of Blackbird, this is a very different type of role and he is convincing and charming. And Dianne Yvette as Kate is a real find. The part is a balancing act of a woman trying to remain civil in an increasingly bad situation, and the actress nails it.Good People runs through March 24 at the Unicorn. You want to see it.

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