Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Lindsay-Abaire is best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning play Rabbit Hole, which was also put on film (starring Nicole Kidman). That was his most naturalistic and dark play at that time, his earlier plays sharing a whimsical, absurdist landscape. Good People is also naturalistic, focused on real people struggling with real issues, but it's far from dark, and includes laugh-out-loud dialogue and endearing characters.
Margaret Walsh (Sarah McKereghan) lives and works in South Boston ("Southie"), eking out a living at a dollar store while caring for her adult disabled daughter. Like so many Americans living paycheck to paycheck, losing a job spells disasterso when Stevie (Caleb Noal) fires her, she rapidly spirals downward, facing bleak prospects. Landlady and erstwhile daughter-sitter Dottie (Kate Brickley) threatens to evict her if the rent is late, but best friend Jean (Liz Jahren) brainstorms job ideas to boost her confidence. When Jean reports having seen an old school chum at a Boys Club dinner, Margie is encouraged to approach him for work.
Not quite that simple, of courseMike (Nick Sholley) is a high-profile doctor now, having distanced himself successfully from his Southie past, and reluctant to reconnect or even reminisce. Margie nevertheless drops like a bomb into his upper-class life, barging into his home, surprising his wife Kate (Liz Rogers-Beckley), and disrupting his self-image. The plot twists and turns come fast and furious, leaving the audience spinning with questions about where the truth lies.
But more to the play's point: how is it that some people escape the circumstances of their early life, and others can't seem to manage it? Is it purely luck? Or fortitude, or talent, or determination? Or what? Americans like to think everyone has equal opportunity to succeed in whatever they choose, but Lindsay-Abaire questions that with the example of Margie and her friends, "unlucky" to a fault, scrabbling to keep a tenuous hold on day-to-day living.
At one point the dialogue almost slips into sitcom-like banter, but suddenly shifts into high gear with serious intent. It never loses its sense of humor, though, with Margie embodying the smart, sarcastic joking style that Southies are known for. If you find yourself rooting for different characters at different points in the play, you will have made the playwright's point. Any discussion of class issues in America feels like tiptoeing through a minefield. Throw race into the mix, as Lindsay-Abaire deftly does, and you've got a conflagration. Keep it this side of humorous, and there's hope for progress.
McKereghan serves up a delightful, very real character, complex and savvy and determined. Her matter-of-fact delivery perfectly captures the Southie wisecracking style and carries much of the wit. She's well-matched on stage by the entire ensemble, but especially with Sholley. Their scenes sparkle with chemistry and the memory of a shared past. Jahren is a total hoot as Jean, and Rogers-Beckley perfect as the upscale doctor's wife. Brickley's Dottie has a droll outlook and a penchant for blank looks; and Noal's down-to-earth Stevie maneuvers his way into our hearts.
Director Michael Fontaine keeps the interactions lively, and nails the comedy so that the zingers hit home, but takes the turn into serious matters with a skilled hand. Marvelous scenic design by Wayne Hovey manages numerous locations in surprising realistic fashion, and Vincent Mothersbaugh's lighting complements beautifully, with nice gobo touches. There's no credit for sound design in the program, but the choice of music is affecting, and I loved the voiceover bingo. And who was responsible for those beauteous bunnies? Kudos to Brickley for natural-sounding dialects. Costume design by Ellen Howes elucidates character and statuswhat a difference between Margie and Kate.
It's an extraordinary play from a towering American talent, and Cinnabar has given it an outstanding staging. Definitely a don't miss.
Good People, through February 18, 2018, at Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd., Petaluma CA. Tickets $15.00-$35.00 can be purchased online at www.cinnabartheater.org or by phone at 707-763-8920