Center Stage: Theatre Conspiracy hits another high note with ‘Good People’
Theatre Conspiracy offered a wonderful and subtly surprising treat this season with David Lindsay-Abaire’s emotionally intriguing “Good People.”
Much of the opening scene of “Good People” reminded me of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” Like Willie Loman in “Salesman,” the main character Margaret/Margie (beautifully and sensitively portrayed by Annie Wagner) has just been fired from her $9.15 an hour job at the dollar store. What’s worse, she has been fired by the store manager Stevie (Thomas Marsh), a young man she had known since he was a baby.
Margie is a 50-year-old woman with a severely disabled adult daughter that requires constant supervision and care, resulting in Margie’s chronic lateness at work. Her job as a cashier wasn’t all that, but it was her only means for paying rent and buying food. The present economic downturn in South Boston means the job market is tight and finding another job in this current recession is tough; that and considering her age, makes it nigh impossible.
Unlike Willie Loman, Margie doesn’t look at suicide as an option, but her desperation to survive forces her to examine the dichotomy between the haves and the have nots, along with destiny versus decency in these rough times.
“Good People” hits the targets at many levels — the characters are emotionally gripping while the plotline is very current. There are a lot of working-class Americans in the same situation. But let me warn you, though, the plotline may seem familiar and you might guesstimate what will happen next; there is a more than 50 percent chance you’ll get it right or not. This play constantly surprises. It is happy and sad with its own unique sense of humor, which kept me as well as the whole audience at rapt attention throughout.
As the lights come up we find ourselves in South Boston’s poorer part of town, where most of the folks are called Southies by the city’s more affluent society. This neighborhood is for the most part second generation Irish living in rundown two-family houses, or the “projects.”
Southies consider “a big night out on the town” is made up of a few rounds of bingo in the local Catholic Church; this is also a neighborhood where this month’s paycheck just about covers last month’s bills; and here is where Margie has just been let go from yet another job as cashier at the local dollar store. She will now be facing eviction from her pinch-penny landlady Dottie (played to the hilt by the “Downtown Diva” herself, the indomitable Stephanie Davis).
Facing eviction and scrambling to keep her meager existence on track, one of Margie’s close schoolgirl chums, Jean (Karen Goldberg), reveals that she just ran into a former Southie (Dr. Mike portrayed by a very talented actor whose name is wrob, no, that is not a typo, that’s his name in the program).
Dr. Mike made it big and bailed out of the “hood” and he might be just the ticket to a fresh new start. Problem for Margie: is this Doctor Mike, an apparently self-made man, secure enough to face the shame of his humble beginning prior to becoming “lace curtain Irish” living on the posh side of town?
The crux of this play is how much Margie is willing to risk, of the little pride she has left to find out. That is the question this amazingly gifted playwright explores; these struggles of shifting loyalties, not only to oneself, but also to one’s friends. Although director Mike Breen and the playwright emphasize the comedy in “Good People,” when this play gets dramatic it is truly searing, with no punches pulled.
What was great about this latest Theatre Conspiracy production was not only was the play and the direction first rate, the acting was strong, and the Bill Taylor set design inventive and could not have been better.
Like I said, there was strong and truthful acting throughout, but clearly the evening was carried by Annie Wagner as Margie; she certainly carries the show since her character is pivotal in every scene, while in the second act there is another strong acting turn by Nerlynn Etienne as Kate, Mike’s African American/young and socially gracious wife.
Also in Act 2, as Doctor Mike the uncomfortable and somewhat stiff guy from the first act does a complete 180, Mike’s real character comes to life and the stuffy Dr. Mike becomes his Southie persona — just plain Mike. It is then that wrob’s powerhouse acting notches it way up to intense, resulting in a fine tour-de-force performance.
The best comic scenes occur when Margie hangs out at the church bingo game with her friends Dottie and Jean, along with a rather uncomfortable Steve (the dollar store manager who fired Margie). Karen Goldberg, Stephanie Davis and Thomas Marsh really show off their acting chops and wonderful comic ensemble timing in these telling scenes.
This stunning play continually surprises, as it transitions from happy to sad in its own unique way. The audience, as well as this reviewer, sat in rapt attention and stayed totally intrigued; let me assure you all it doesn’t get better than that.
Unfortunately by the time you read this review, this terrific play will have played its last performance. That having been said, Theatre Conspiracy is presenting a blockbuster next month by presenting Tom Stoppard’s stunning play “Arcadia” starting March 13, 14, 19, 20, 21, 26, 28 at 8 p.m., with a matinee on March 22 at 2 p.m. Whatever you do, Do Not Miss This One!
Phone the box-office at (239) 936-3239 and reserve your seats now. When you phone, remind ’em Marsha sent you.