Regional Reviews: Seattle
Good People Very Good Indeed at Seattle Repertory Theatre
Good People take place in present day, partly in economically depressed, heavily Irish, South Boston and partly in the affluent suburb of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Still a "Southie" is one Margie Walsh, a fifty-something, rather slatternly woman who gave up any hope of better things back when a high school fling left her pregnant, and then the mother of a severely mentally handicapped daughter whom she still cares for as an adult. In the early moments of the play, Margie loses her barebones cashier job at a dollar store due to arriving late for her shifts too often. Her bingo palace friends Jean and worthless landlady Dottie commiserate, and Jean suggests Margie connect with an old high school beau, the now successful Dr. Mike Dillon, as a possible job reference/contact. After breezily charging into his office, Mike offers Margie little in the way of hope in her plight, but she wrangles an invite to the birthday party his wife is throwing for him at their home, in the hopes of landing a job prospect among his wealthy friends and colleagues. Margie refuses to buy into Mike's subsequent phone call advising her that the party has been cancelled due to the illness of his young daughter, and decides to show up at Mike's house anyway. After initially being mistaken for a caterer by Mike's charming, younger African-American wife Kate, Margie enters into a verbal sparring match with Mike, which spins out of control further as, on the advice of one of her Southie gal pals, she implies Mike was actually the father of Margie's child.
Margie is a role that fosters both our sympathy and revulsion, sometime simultaneously, and Ellen McLaughlin accomplishes this with gusto and the ability to depict Margie in shades of grayand not as either a victim or victimizer, as indeed she is both. Her South Boston accent is so dead-on that I had to adjust my ears to it during her initial lines; hardly a criticism, but prepare yourself for this. John Bolger as Mike nails the role of a man who saw what he had to do to rise out of the no-hope neighborhood of his youth, and did so regardless of whom he hurt in the process, or will hurt to retain that status. Veteran Seattle character actresses Marianne Owen and Cynthia Lauren Tewes deliver many laughs as Jean and Dottie, with Tewes a particular standout in a role that is as visually and verbally removed from her days of sitcom fame (ABC's "The Love Boat") as you can imagine. Eric Riedmann is touchingly real as Stevie, a decent guy who has no choice but to fire Margie, but proves to be perhaps her most true-blue friend. And in an exquisite turn, beautiful Zakiya Young is stellar as the almost too good to be true Kate, who sees her husband's faults with no blinders on, and discovers more of them during Margie's visit. I predict a great future for this talented actress.
James Youmans has created scenic designs that expertly delineate the cultural divide between the Southies and the Chestnut Hill crowd, especially through the use of projections of Boston maps. Distinguished work is offered as well by lighting designer Charlie Morrison and Sound Designer/Composer Scott Killian. David Murin's costume designs are perfect visualizations of how much sharper the haves can dress than the have nots.
Good People runs through March 31, 2013 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center. For tickets/ more information call 206-443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org.
- David Edward Hughes