GOOD PEOPLEby David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by René Moreno
Set Design by Scott Osborne
Costume Design by Barbara Cox
Sound Design by Kellen Voss
Props Design by Megan Beddingfield
Dialect Coach, Susan Sargeant
Margaret – Jessica Cavanagh
Mike – James Crawford
Jean – Michelle Courtney Schwartz
Dottie – Pamela Dougherty
Kate – JuNene K.
Stevie – David Price
Reviewed Performance: 6/9/2014
Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Shrek The Musical, Oz: The Great and Powerful, Rabbit Hole and Good People. Playwright, screenwriter, lyricist and librettist, David Lindsay-Abaire, is nothing if not wide-ranging in his subject matter and in creating moods for the theater and film. His earlier plays, Fuddy Meers, Kimberly Akimbo and Wonder of the World, have been called “wacky, whimsical, farcical and fantasy-tinged” and in many ways are very different from his later work. He has said, “I wanted to see if I could write a naturalistic play. . .the critics who didn’t like my comedies hated them with an unbridled passion, and then I would see these same people writing very respectfully about ordinary, naturalistic plays. So a bitter, angry part of me was saying I could write one of those damn plays if I wanted to.” The result was Rabbit Hole and a Pulitzer Prize.
Several years ago, he began thinking more deeply about social class, a subject many British dramatists have explored but that contemporary American playwrights often bypass. Having grown up in south Boston, a “Southie,” he was awarded a scholarship by the Boys and Girls Clubs to Milton Academy, a world of wealth and privilege. “I felt a lot of tension and conflict in my identity because of that,” he says.
Out of that experience, and others, came Good People. In it Margie gets fired from her job at the Dollar Store because of chronic lateness. Her friend Jean suggests she get in touch with Michael (Mikey), a high school ex, now a successful doctor, who might have a job for her. Michael now lives in tony Chestnut Hill with his wife and young daughter. As the story unfolds and Margie faces the possibility of eviction, she considers desperate choices to pull herself out of her rapidly deteriorating existence.
The play is about choices; the ones you make and the ones you let slide by. It questions the part played by luck and opportunity, and the life skills to recognize that opportunity when it comes along. Heavy topics to be sure, but as in all of Mr. Lindsay-Abaire’s work, it’s also heavily laced with raucous comedy. There may be some easy laughs but there are no easy answers.
Playing the lead role of Margie in a blazingly radiant performance is Jessica Cavanagh. Portraying a Southie to the core, this actress gives us every nuance of the hard-working, no-nonsense, terrified woman faced with an adult, mentally-challenged daughter and the imminent onset of the total loss of everything. Cavanagh’s body is coiled, tense, belligerent and fragile by turns, never relaxed, always on guard. Her reactions and unspoken moments speak volumes. The never faltering accent, her physical embodiment with the wide stance or splayed legs when she’s sitting, the gestures that illuminate each moment and inner thought, all contribute to this stunning portrayal. The strength and the fragility are right there for the entire world to see. Margie embodies so much of what middle-America faces today, and her lashing out and hurtful comments seem sad and self-defeating but still understandable. Ms. Cavanagh’s got comic timing to spare and can break your heart with a look. It’s one of the most fully realized performances I have seen in many a season.
Michael is played by James Crawford, a role with circumstances not unlike the playwright’s. Sure, the character grew up a Southie, but he grabbed the opportunities he saw and acted on them. Now Michael’s a successful, reproductive endocrinologist (‘A What?” Margie asks.) and has created a life far different from the one he gladly left behind. Mr. Crawford, always a confident and stellar performer, doesn’t disappoint. In his characterization there are still traces of the Southie accent, but the body language is confident and even a little cocky at times. Mike’s a whole new person, one Crawford creates by his stance and spare movements. He shows us a man with all the rough edges carefully polished away. Crawford gives as good as he takes, and the big scene in the second act shows an actor fully in command of the stage and the character. The moments between Mike and Margie are real and filled with history, communicated by looks, reactions and physical proximity. The moments Mike has with his wife, Kate, are just as fully realized. Mr. Crawford creates backstory with every interaction.
Right up there, ability-wise with Ms. Cavanagh, in the scene stealing role of Jean, is Michelle Courtney Schwartz. Ms. Schwartz is new to the Dallas performance scene but certainly no newcomer to talent and character-driven acting. Big hair, cigarette in hand, tight pants and a swagger that only comes from a thorough understanding of the persona she’s inhabiting, Ms Schwartz gives an audience-grabbing characterization that doesn’t miss a laugh. She sets up and delivers every joke, nailing it home with a look, a gesture, a pose or a quick comeback. She, like Ms. Cavanagh, fills volumes with a reaction and a quick glance. Her gesture can give a complete history – with footnotes. Beneath all that brass, Ms. Schwartz doesn’t neglect letting us see Jean’s affection and genuine caring for Margie, and in spite of her biting comments to the other characters, she manages to be smart but not mean. It’s a performance the audience will love and the actress seems to relish playing every moment.
Dottie, Margie’s rather dotty landlady, is handily played by the always strong Pamela Dougherty. Ms. Dougherty gives us a woman who is a friend but a business woman first. It’s not a deliberately mean landlady she creates but rather a practical one. This woman can talk about renting out the apartment to a relative before Margie even has a chance to catch up on the money that’s past-due. Ms. Dougherty gives us a rather vague, disconnected, but wise-cracking character, a delight to watch by never being totally involved in what the other characters are saying and always busy with her own interests. Dougherty shuffles around the stage, one roller in tangled hair, making comments that seem almost thrown away but still landing every juicy morsel. Dottie crafts little rabbits that she sells, much to the amusement of the other characters. Ms. Dougherty is always fussing over them, kissing them for luck in the Bingo scenes and generally treating them as great treasures. Hers is a small gem of an almost cameo role, played for all it’s worth. These little rabbits pay off in a big way in the second act as does everything from the first part of the play. (You can buy one of them in the lobby!) Rabbits, Rabbit Hole. Hmmm… Coulda been kitties or unicorns… JuNene K. plays Kate and David Price portrays Stevie, supporting roles that both these fine thespians bring to fully realized life by their carefully crafted performances. Ms. K. presents Kate, Mike’s wife, as a somewhat prim but still gracious hostess; sitting with knees carefully together and gestures close to the body. Ms. K. slowly expands her performance as the scene progresses to let us see the complex woman who inhabits this upper-class world, creating for us a wife who is not just the perfect hostess, but also the strong mother and independent female determined to stand her ground. When her moment comes, Ms. K. takes it and runs with it, strong vocally and physically.
Mr. Price, as Stevie the manager of the Dollar Store where Margie works and an avid bingo player, creates a fully-rounded character out of a role that might have gone unnoticed in the hands of a lesser-skilled actor. When Stevie has to give Margie the bad news that she’s been let go, Mr. Price’s face and voice and body are filled with regret and determination. He allows us to see Stevie’s concern and his struggle to change a situation that demands he be ruthless. Price’s bingo scenes are funny and even touching, kissing his lucky hat and turning it backward and placing his little, red, lucky hot wheel car on the table with his bingo cards. The big reveal at the end is believable because of the character Mr. Price has given us.
Scott Osborne is the set designer for this production and it’s a doozy of a set, with five locations. The initial set, seen upon entering, is the back alley of the Dollar Store with hyper-realistic brick wall, electric meters, garbage cans and pipe-railed back steps. The set unfolds and revolves to show us the also realistically outfitted kitchen of Margie’s apartment. This, with the revolving portion of a wall and the unfolding of some more wall segments becomes Mike’s incompletely shown but realistically detailed doctor’s office. A simple, long, folding table and chairs placed downstage become the bingo hall. In the second act, the complete stage transitions to the very nice living room of Michael’s home for the show’s longest segment and then back to the bingo hall for the last scene. These all work well enough, though the completeness of some and the fragmentary nature of others is somewhat disconcerting. The wood- paneled walls of the living room also look a little unfinished as though the crew ran out of time to complete the detail that would have matched the specificity of the scenery in the opening and other scenes. It’s a commendable job for a difficult assignment.
Lighting by Leann Burns and properties by Megan Beddingfield are both appropriate and unobtrusive. Ms. Burns uses full or segmented areas of light that illuminate the action with skill, and Ms. Beddingfield’s props are true to the character’s lives and their environments without calling undue notice. The bunnies are exactly what you would expect them to be!
Barbara C. Cox designed the costumes and she clothes the people in what seems appropriate and enlightening to each character. The garments feel right for each person, look lived-in and don’t have the artificial look of “costumes.” Lots of blue and character-connecting color makes for visually pleasing groupings. Sound Designer Kellen Voss has chosen upbeat music, both vocal and instrumental, that keep the energy flowing even during the sometime draggy scene changes.
Directing this fine production with his usual perceptive eye and emotional insight is Rene Moreno. Mr. Moreno has gotten wonderful performances from his actors, putting in little moments of business and reaction that add enormously to the subtext and background of the stories being played out. Placement of the actors, especially the extended second act scene between Margie and Michael visualizes what the characters are feeling and trying to express and/or hide. His pacing and blocking of the actors keeps the focus clear and the story moving, even when everyone is seated and playing bingo, which, by the way, is maybe one of the more entertaining scenes I’ve watched in awhile.
I am a big fan of Mr. Lindsay-Abaire’s work, from the quirky early stuff to the heartfelt, hard-hitting scenarios of the latter. He obviously loves his characters and it shows. In his plays, there are no true villains and no shining heroes. Everyone is flawed and struggling with their own demons and angels and it makes him a playwright to be treasured. His interests and tastes are wide and varied and I appreciate that about him. WaterTower’s current play, Good People, is no exception, and is indeed a worthy addition to his canon. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience the laughter and the pain, the peculiar and the achingly familiar in this brilliantly-acted production of an important voice for the everyday life in which we struggle and hopefully triumph. Finding the “good people” in all people is something Mr. Lindsay-Abaire seems quite able to do. Join these particular Good People. You’ll be glad you did and you’ll feel right at home, Southie or not.
15650 Addison road
Addison, TX 75001
Runs through June 29th
Wednesday –Thursday at 7:30 pm
Friday – Saturday at 8:00 pm
Saturday, June 21st and 28th, at 2:00 pm
Sunday at 2:00 pm
Tickets are $20.00 - $40.00.
For information and to purchase tickets go to www.watertowertheatre.org, call the box office at 972-450-6232, or purchase at WaterTower Theatre Box Office (Tuesday –Friday, noon to 6:00 pm).