Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of Hillary and Clinton
We rarely see Ms. Byers on stage these days, but in a big role like this she spreads her soul and gently carries you along, her Margie Walsh becoming more clearly defined by each shabby bargain with life, as she confronts the high cost of being one of the "good people." Without friends, her life would be a tawdry mess. And consistently, the actress seems to occupy the past, present and future of her moments on stage–often all at once, as she passes through them.
In this exceptional production, Margie seems to cling to the recollection of a 1980s punk swagger and a steadfast South Boston rebelliousness. But all that teeters on stilts when she's confronted with the lavish new wealth of an old boyfriend on the other side of town. And teeters further, when she measures out the costs of her own special-needs daughter, when she can't find a job. It's a great role for a great actress, and a treat to watch.
Liz Mischel and Stephanie Merritt make a hilarious, ferocious pair as Margie's friends in Southie, where the old neighborhood stories are retold again and again. Their senses of humor really shine as they cut each other down to size. Stephen Henley fights a sense of dry-land drowning, amidst their acerbic chat, as their bingo mate; likewise when (in the show's first scene) he must deliver some bad news to Margie, which she forestalls, by engaging in a furious stand-up comedy routine, reaffirming an old connection, in hopes of saving her job at a dollar store.
On a purely visceral level (and this show has viscera to spare, thanks to director Bell), Stephen Peirick seems to be psychologically disemboweled, playing Mike, Margie's ex-boyfriend, torn to pieces by women at both ends of the socio-economic ladder: by Margie and by Mike's young wife Kate. The latter is played with nuance and a rising, genteel sort of wrath by Laurell Stevenson. All theater is about relationships: the kinds you want and the kinds you're stuck with. The "in groups," and the "what are you doing in my group" groups. Those dialectics play out constantly, and in hi-def, in this production.
Finally, there's another reason this show gets done a lot, and it's not just because of the smallish cast or the minimal set requirements, which are raised to nearly iconic status by designer Josh Smith. It's also a masterpiece of one long humiliating class-struggle moment in American history that simply won't go away.
Good People runs through February 26, 2022, at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave., St. Louis MO Reservations are advised. Masks are required, but vaccination is only recommended, and seating is not currently socially distanced. For tickets and information visit www.straydogtheatre.org.