CVRep artistic director Ron Celona wraps his highly successful 10th season of presenting quality all-Equity theatre productions, with a flawless production of “Good People,” by Tony Award-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. The dramedy written in 2011 is an homage to working-class America, and in particular, to the rough and tough Irish working class of South Boston’s neighborhood whose struggling residents proudly call themselves “Southie’s.”
“Good People,” is intelligently and sensitively staged by director Michael Matthews, and is the second production to grace the stage of CVRep’s new permanent home in its state-of-the-art Cathedral City venue. CVRep’s new era was launched with a triumphant and critically acclaimed production of the musical “CHESS,” about eight weeks ago.
With Lindsay- Abaire’s “Good People,” it’s now time for the drama and comedy genres to strut their stuff in the new venue and boy do they ever strut. Artistic Director Celona selected a powerful play about those caught in the trap of being among the working-poor struggling to keep their heads above water. And it’s extremely relevant in 2019 America. It’s estimated that almost fifty percent of working families have less than $10,000 in their retirement accounts.
For the uninitiated or Californians who rarely travel to the East Coast… welcome to Southie, a Boston neighborhood where a night on the town means a few rounds of bingo, perhaps a beer, where this month’s paycheck covers last month’s bills. Margie Walsh (a sensational Reamy Hall), a single mother has just been let go from her latest job. Worse yet is her concern in how to care for her ‘special needs’ child who requires constant daycare and medication in order for Margie to keep a job.
Facing eviction and scrambling to catch a break, Margie thinks, perhaps, an old boyfriend who’s made it out of Southie as a medical doctor now in private practice might be her ticket to a fresh new start. But is this apparently self-made now married man secure enough to face his humble roots? Margie is about to risk what little she has left to find out. So, fasten your seat belts!
Lindsay-Abaire’s potent drama is leavened with humor reminiscent of dialogue from the pen of the people’s playwright, the great “King of Comedy” Neil Simon, who had an unerring ear for urban comedy dialogue like no other. Also in the modern Pantheon of playwrights are Paddy Chayefsky, August Wilson, and Tennessee Williams who also understood the lives of their characters, as did Arthur Miller when it came to drama. Whether they wrote comedies or dramas, they all wrote compelling stories about the human condition.
Director Matthews is blessed with an abundance of riches in “Good People” when it comes to his talented cast. Not only is Ms. Hall a theatrical force of nature when on-stage, she is the engineer that drives this dramatic train right from the get-go. Life is a journey replete with choices and Margie’s choices have crippled her advancement in 21st Century American society. Her education stopped after high school limiting her options and the salary requirements necessary for a slice of the “American Dream” pie. She’s eager and earnest but her chances of grabbing the brass ring are slim indeed, and she knows it.
Ms. Hall’s Margie is a street smart, tightly-wound energy source that can overwhelm her friends as well strangers in a positive/negative way depending on one’s situation. She is direct almost to a fault. We see; however, a good person trying her best but falling short in the game of life. Our hearts go out to her and other ‘good people.’ It’s an exquisite, highly-nuanced, winning performance rendered by Ms. Hall.
As good as Ms. Hall is in this impressive production, and she’s very good; indeed, she too is blessed with an outstanding ensemble cast of supporting players. Good writing in the hands of gifted performers can elevate a production from being a good production into an outstanding production.
Setting the tone of the play is a seat-squirming scene with Erik Odom as Stevie, the manager at the Dollar Store where Margie works. Stevie is the messenger who is tasked with explaining the reason for upper management’s position of having to let her go. He is painfully aware of what this will do to her home situation. His family and Margie’s family are friends. It’s a familiar scene for anyone who has ever worked as an hourly employee. These are the decisions that try the souls of empathetic managers.
The on-the-nose comedy performances of Barbara Gruen as deadpan, negative, Dottie and Candi Milo as the nosey busybody Jean, who keep egging on Margie to do this or that; deliver acting turns straight out of the “Golden Girls” TV sitcom playbook The timing of this cheeky but terrific duo is just flat out impeccable and down-right hilarious.
The light comedy of Act One shifts gears slightly in Act Two. Margie decides to contact Mike (Michael Matthys) her ex-boyfriend now a successful medical doctor with an upscale practice, in an effort to have Mike offer her a job working in his office. At their meeting, Mike is very cordial but cautious as to the reason Margie sought him out. She never made any earlier attempts to contact him after all this time. Why now? He left his “Southie” roots behind, and he’s not keen to be reminded of how far he has come just now.
Margie is tentative but committed to asking for a job on Mike’s office staff. He dissuades her from pleading; saying he doesn’t have a need for more office staff. But perhaps, some of his colleagues might. He and his wife Kate are hosting a cocktail party in their home next week, and he’ll ask around. Margie boldly presses Mike (in for a penny, in for a pound as the old saying goes). Can she attend the party and mingle with his guests? Mike very reluctantly agrees.
Mike’s wife, a beautiful, sophisticated, highly educated, and privileged, young woman, is deliciously played by Nadege August, who delivers a finely judged performance as the in-control wife who is completely comfortable in any social situation. However, when the real reason for Margie’s visit comes up so does all the history and baggage of Mike and Margie’s relationship, plus Kate’s role spills over into a mesmerizing second act full of twists and turns. It’s good stuff. No spoiler alerts from me. This production is too good. You will just have to come and see for yourself.
Ms. August’s perfect diction and delivery is a joy to these weary old ears who reluctantly endure the less than trained speech of the tyros of today’s stage performances; who appear to have abandoned voice modulation and training all together. Yelling is for sporting events; not for the theatre and thankfully, not on Director Matthew’s watch either.
In the technical department led by director Matthews, the new CVRep theatre becomes a playground full of new toys for Emmy-winning Scenic Designer Jimmy Cuomo to play with. Although stage left sight lines briefly blocked a couple of moments, Cuomo’s cleverly designed set gives the actors plenty of space to work their magic on the audience.
The redoubtable Lighting Designer, Moira Wilke Whitaker, provides just the right amount of light in creating mood moments but still delivers enough light to appreciate the costumes of designer Chandler Smith. Sound designer Rebecca Kessin, Lynda Shaeps, Hair and makeup designer, and Prop Master Doug Morris complete the creative team. The production is stage managed by Marcedes L. Clanton. A special kudo goes to Dialect Coach Tuffet Schmelzle for helping the actors sound so authentic and comfortable in speaking that ‘lovable’ but unique Boston accent.
“Good People” is a splendid production and evening in the theatre that performs at CVRep, in Cathedral City, CA and runs through May 19, 2019. It’s a must-see production! And remember a great nation deserves great art. Support the Arts.