Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed by Giovanna Sardelli.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Cathy Haase and Janis Young; rehearsal photo provided
Brian Dykstra and Tasha Lawrence; rehearsal photo provided
"A middle-aged lady in an outfit from Goodwill."
While there may be no sin in being poor, there certainly is no shame in trying not to be. At least if you do things on the up-and-up. At least if you act honorably and don’t over-react to rejection. At least if you understand the limitations of decency. For one poor Southie woman a shot at a better life plays into her worst instincts and, encouraged by friends, she shoots the moon. Or at least she tries.
The only problem with Margaret is she has scruples. She doesn’t know she has them, but she does. Perhaps she believes too hard in the possibility of something sustainable if not better. As things lie, the only real hope she has for an improvement in her situation is to fall back on the old ideas, the old ways and the old friends.
That’s the basic premise of David Lindsay-Abaire’s play "Good People" which is opening the season at the Dorset Theatre Festival in Dorset, Vermont. This is a remarkably good play about Southies, people from South Boston, folks who have lived close to the street and only resisted the worst in life by seeing it for what it is, the surrender to fate of a life that could be improved. For Margaret, this author’s heroine, heroin is not an answer, and neither is drink. She has witnessed what those things bring. She raises her daughter, now 30 and dependent on her mother for everything, with humor and sensitivity and though we never see daughter Joyce, we know her for all her deficiencies.
When a former boyfriend enters the dismal picture, then seemingly pulls away from any responsibility for Margaret’s future, she takes things into her own hands and, like Jericho facing Joshua, walls crumble away and musically everything behind those walls gets played.
The second act’s first lengthy scene is an utter joy, especially in the hands of this director and her actors. Giovanna Sardelli has directed a seamless and deliciously constructed piece and nowhere is her work more outstanding than in this second act scene played out in a fine house on a good street in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Mike, a doctor, and his wife Kate, accidentally host an intruding Margaret with wine, cheese and an almost random sense of camaraderie. The scene seems to be constantly in motion and nothing seems forced, accidental or left to chance. Sardelli has taken a space, decorated for casual luxury, and turned it into a racing field with hydrant touchstones represented by fine art glass and cheese platters, wine glasses and wall decorations. The ensuing chaos is due to the emotional levels on which these characters live and in the hands of Tasha Lawrence as Margaret, Krystel Lucas as Kate and Brian Dykstra as Mike, those levels are nearly equivalent to Olympic competition.
Tasha Lawrence is the needy Margaret who cannot comprehend her own situation because she cannot get a grip on it. Every issue has its natural excuses. Every plan has its crash-point. Every hope has its dream and every dream its nightmare. For Margaret there are no easy answers or solutions, only easy escapes into a different job for which she is not prepared. Lawrence has a face and body that reads both the hope and despair simultaneously while her voice is sure, always, and strong and definitive. The combination is devastating.
As her best friends, Janis Young as Dottie is a scary dream of supportive friendship and Cathy Haase as Jean is a perfect example of the horrible leading the unremarkable. Every piece of advice that Jean gives Margaret is totally wrong but Hasse makes it all sound right and plausible. Every aphorism or statement of fact that Dottie impart is worked over into a former heavy smoker’s declaration of repentance when Young says it. I could sit through a play about these two characters with these two actress playing them.
Gerrett Neergaard plays Stevie, the young boss who has to fire his mother’s old friend Margaret. Neergaard makes an unsympathetic character into the kind of friend you might want in a time of crisis. He can get an uneasy edge into his voice. He can make a kind gesture into something nasty and unacceptable. He seems to have mastered the simultaneous playing of opposites.
Lucas, as the wife of the man Margaret has invested her hopes in at this juncture, has beauty, charm, grace and an effective sense of balance and off-balance in every intense moment of her role. Whether she is accepting possibilities that she dislikes, or discoursing on foreign cheeses the actress plays with a reality that makes her unreal role into something dynamic and incredibly present. She has it all going for her in this part and she makes the most of it.
Dykstra as her husband and Margaret’s former boyfriend has the most difficult role in the play. He carries it off well; even his darkest, meanest moments exposing his upbringing which shocks his wife and us at the same time are played with a laid-away charm that thrives on such moments. There is so much going on this performance that the onlooker could mistake gestures and vocal shadings as anything from closet Sadist to Homosexual to professional sceptic. Mike has worked his way out of the Boston ghetto and into a mainstream existence that is almost always a fiction. Dykstra’s fine performance makes us see that Mike isn’t even aware of all that.
Kevin Judge has created superb scenery for this show. Emily Pepper’s costumes reek of reality. Michael Giannitti provides excellent lighting and Oliver Wadsworth has done a wonderful job of coaching accents for these characters.
This is a play that is too good to miss. From central Pittsfield, MA it is a one hour and twenty-two minute drive and everything about this productions says the drive is worthwhile. That’s not something you’ll necessarily hear me say, or have me ask you to read, too often. But it’s true - "too good to miss."
Good People plays at the Dorset Theatre Festival at 104 Cheney Road, Dorset, Vermont through July 7. For information and tickets call the box office at 802-867-2223.