Good People at Park Square Theatre



One can’t help but compare David Lindsay-Abaire‘s

breezy and likable Good People (at Park Square, through Oct 6) with Bruce Norris’s bleak Clybourne Park, recently produced at the Guthrie.  Both plays address the unspoken elephant in the American room.  For Norris, it’s race; for Lindsay-Abaire, the elephant is class.  Clybourne Park may be the better play – more incisive, more astute and insightful.  But Good People, with its panoply of sweet and lovable characters, its nifty comic structure, its loving

portrayal of working class Bahston, its cunningly placed laugh lines, is a heckuva lot more fun.

The premise is simple: Margaret, universally called Margie (hard G), a denizen of Boston’s dreary working class neighborhood Southie, has lost her job as a clerk at the Dollar Store.  Margie lives a life taken directly from Barbara Ehrenreich’s disturbing Nickel & Dimed: her joblessness has left her just weeks away from homelessness.  She cares for a severely retarded daughter (this is largely why she has lost her job – her daughter causes chronic tardiness).  She has a mountain of credit card debt and desperately needs dental work.  She contacts Mike, a many-moons-past ex, who has escaped Southie to become a well-to-do M.D.  She asks Mike for a job.  He knows of none.  And then she—

All right.  Good People presents a theater reviewer with a quandary: I can’t recount the story of, or criticize the play (and there is, imho, a lot to criticize) without giving away the plot.  And this I will not do.  So I will leave the play and let you make your own judgement.

And besides I would much prefer discussing the performances which are uniformly marvelous.  As Margie, Virginia S. Burke thrills.  Her circumstances horrify, but Margie forges cheerfully on, a friend, a tenant, a caring mother, playing church bingo, needling Mike, reveling in her ingrained Southie-ness.  At first Burke’s relentless ebullience seemed one note and slighty out of character.  But she grew on me.  Burke’s Margie is a woman of heart, courage, passion, spunk and spirit.  Burke portrays her perfectly (she gets plenty of help from accomplished director slash set designer Joel Sass and especially from costumist Andrea M. Gross).  Brava.

Similarly, James Denton‘s amiable and easy-going (apparently) Mike masks anger – and fear, which makes him quite dangerous.  At first I was charmed by Mike’s open-mindedness and sensitivity, but the play progressed I became quite frightened of him.  As Margie’s gritty chums, Angela Timberman and Jane Hammill are pitch perfect.  Sam Pearson as Stevie has a play-making surprise for us in the end.

And then there’s the ever-luminous Hope Cervantes.  She plays Kate, an affluent suburban hausfrau, padding around her perfect house (caterers to the side door, please), filled with expensive (and insured) knick-knacks.  Kate is, at first, easy to dismiss.  Until she comes into her own, with an edge of anger, passion and a fierce will to survive.  But: she does this without letting go of her sweet and honeyed persona.  Terrific.

Next up at Park Square: Mary T And Lizzie K, by Tazewell Thompson, featuring Linda Kelsey and the always terrific Shá Cage, opening 10/18.

For more information about John Olive please visit his website.



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