Saturday, September 3, 2016

The "Good People” as it turns out aren’t so bad at all.

On Stage Playhouse is mounting a fine production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s  "Good People". In case this show is new to you, it premiered here in San Diego in 2012 at The Old Globe and was well received then, as it should be now. Its not often mounted, at least not to my knowledge, but On Stage Playhouse hits it out of the ball park, Fenway that is, and gives it to you on a silver platter.  

Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire (“Rabbit Hole”, Fuddy Meers” and “Kimberly Akimbo”) was born and grew up in South Boston many moons after I left Massachusetts to move to San Diego. His childhood neighborhood, South Boston or ‘Southie”, reminds me somewhat of mine; middle class working Joe’s, growing up on the streets and not knowing much better ‘till some of us left the hood and went on to college. That was my world, the east side of the city growing up. Moving to the west side meant you had arrived.

Director James P. Darvas understands (as does the playwright) the good folks of South Boston, each and every one of them to the person. He nails their prejudices, spoken and unspoken, memories and stories and long held beliefs. They are all out in the open for us to hear and see. This production gives us insight into small town thinking on a global scale. (Cautionary note: adult language is used in the play and today most of the dialogue would be considered politically incorrect.)

With this strong cast (most unknown to this reviewer) that can grasp the mindset of the folks from South Boston, but have a wee bit of trouble getting all those nasty ahs, as in r, in the right order, it’s a minor flaw and a tall orda in an otherwise eye opening discussion. The ‘Good Folks’ of South Boston aren’t so bad after all.

Pronunciations aside however, they nail the attitude to a tee and that’s what counts in this production. And while most new friends I meet usually get the place of my “Are you from New York”? wrong”, they never waiver from noting that I am an east coast gal. That’s my badge of courage even after not living there for over fifty yeas.  Whatever the opinionated attitude, it comes with the territory and that’s what I find so very chahming or charming (some call it hād nosed and rude) and funny about “Good People”. 

Margie (an excellently nuanced Kaly McKenna) our central character is not living on easy street by any stretch of the imagination, but she is a survivor. She’s raising her daughter alone. Her job as a cashier at the Dollar Store is in jeopardy because she is more often than not late for work and her boss Stevie (Makuz Rodrigues) is being pressured from his boss to let Margie go.

After a few go a rounds, he remains firm and ultimately gives her her walking papers even as she pleads that she will take a pay cut (she is currently making $9.25/ hour) that would wash out all the raises she ever got.  She is desperate to save her job. 

Dottie is Margie’s landlord and she also takes care of Margie’s mentally challenged adult daughter. Dottie is retired and oversleeps a lot. She stays up late making these little rabbit figures to sell and as a result gets to Margie’s late that in turn makes Margie late for work. It’s a conundrum indeed. (Dee Kelley embodies Dottie's character in its entirety and is spot funny just by being there.)

Kaly McKenna, Michele Dixon and Dee Kelley at the Bingo Table
The fact is that Margie needs Dottie more than the other way around. It is taken so matter of fact by Dottie, that it opens a window into the world of the haves and the have not’s on a very small scale. It’s not that Dottie doesn’t empathize or that she is bathing in dough, but she appears more concerned about her little figurines, Bingo and next months rent payment than Margie’s not having enough to pay the rent or getting up early enough for Margie to get to work on time. 

Is it attitude? You tell me. Would she evict her to place her own son and family in Margie’s flat because he lost his job as well? Who knows? Desperate people do desperate things and Lindsay-Abaire makes that abundantly clear in “Good People”. Hard times stink out loud.  It’s a challenge for Margie because this is not the first time she’s been fired from a job and her skills are limited, the job market is tight and she needs to work. She also has less that a high school education.

After going around in circles about where to find another job, her best friend Jean (a funny, with attitude Michele Dixon) suggests she to look up her old flame from the neighborhood some thirty years ago, the good Dr. Mike (Chris Tenney dots all his long A’s and R’s) who is now back practicing in South Boston, but lives in Chestnut Hill, and ask him for a job.

These folks spent a lifetime together as kids on the streets growing up with shared memories (albeit with different takes) so there are no secrets between them, no skeletons in their closets (as one of my dear friends from my old ‘hood’ often reminds me) 

When Margie seeks Mike out, he wants his past buried and forgotten, period!  He also wants her out of his now life. But when Margie shows up at Mike’s high-end neighborhood home for a birthday party that was, in fact cancelled, all bets are called off. Ironically Mike’s African-American wife Kate (Ray-Anna Ranae) thinks Margie is there to work the party.  After all the misunderstandings are sorted out, the gloves come off between Mike and… well the other women in his life.

Kaly McKenna and Chris Tenne

The more Mike knows that Margie needs work and the more he blocks off every avenue his (young) wife Kate tries every combination of plan to get her employed. She offers Margie a babysitting job and apologizes to pay her a mere $15.00 an hour to babysit their young daughter. That $15.00 would almost double her salary at the Dollar Store. 

Mike wants her to leave, Kate insists she stay. Kate doesn’t even get it when she asks Margie if she prefers red to white wine, or when she places a platter of cheeses in front of her and Margie has to ask what each one is.

Kaly McKenna and Ray-Anna Ranae

Mike becomes unhinged when he sees Kate catering to her. And the more he resists, the more of his past is revealed as his wife’s need to know is louder that than his need to stifle it. Margie is more than willing to oblige and the fireworks continue.

Finally in a moment of frustration Kaly McKenna’s Margie lets go all the pent up disappointments of her every day struggles of going it alone, of years of being a loser, of years of not being among the haves up to and including the fact that she can’t even win at Bingo.

This little outburst is the highlight of the second act and McKenna pulls us right in there with her. Her arguments sway back and fourth from woe is me to ‘not my fault’ to look how generous I was to break off our relationship so you Mikey could go off to college’.

The three act as protagonist and antagonist at the same time. It’s a jolly dust up without any fists involved. Needless to say Mike and Kate’s marital problems are sort of worked out in the process. Oh, did I mention that they are in therapy?

Markuz Rodriguez and Kaly McKenna
Rounding out this well-balanced cast, Markuz Rodriguez is the soft-spoken and somewhat untouched by Margie’s personal attacks, Stevie. He proves to be another one of the ‘good people’ in Margie’s life. Michele Dixon is also right on as Jean. Jean is one of the lucky ones to have a job as a waitress. She also stirs up the pot for Margie to push her way into Mike’s life. Good friends do that, right?

Back at Bingo night Margie, Stevie, Dottie and Jean are where they belong at the Church Hall playing Bingo with all the concentration they can muster, never speaking a word about Margie and Mike’s meeting. They are all concentrating on their own cards, markers in hand hoping it will be their turn to win the jackpot that will in turn be used to pay the rent, unless an anonymous friend does it for you.

Special shout out to Chad Oakley (set and lighting design), Nicole White (stage manager and chief set changer along with her bevvy of helpers) who changes the first act set with a complete kitchen, Bingo table off to one side and Mikes office at the other, to a well furnished upper class home in Chestnut Hill with all the upper class markings. No easy feat, this and all during a 15- minute intermission. Well- done folks. Carla Nell and Keala Milles sound design was a bit too loud for my ears and Lisa Burgess’ costumes fit the bill.

If  “Good People” leaves you feeling uncomfortable and fuzzy at the same time, point well taken, it should.  But if you leave the theatre after seeing “Good People” and continue to be untouched and ignore the disparity, the poverty, and the hopelessness that exists in this country, the richest country in the world, shame on you.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Sept 24th
Organization: OnStage playhouse
Phone: 619-422-7781
Production Type: Comedy/drama
Where: 291 Third Ave., Chula Vista, CA 91912
Ticket Prices: $17.00-$23.00

Photos provided by OnStage Playhouse

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