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Surprising and Well-Crafted: ‘Good People’ pulls out stellar performances

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Thalian Association wraps up their summer season at Red Barn Studio with David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People.”  The 2011 Tony nominated play  was the follow up to his 2007 magnum opus, “Rabbit Hole.”  Like “Rabbit Hole,” a child-parent relationship is at the crux of the script.

Nicole Farmer

QUALITY PERFORMANCES: Nicole Farmer brings realism to her performance in “Good People.” Photo, courtesy Mark Steelman.

Set in the Boston neighborhood of Southie—made famous for one generation of Americans because of its refusal to participate in school busing in the ‘70s, and for another because of the movie “Good Will Hunting”—the show opens in an alley behind a dollar store. The manager, Stevie (Dillon Maurer), must fire Margie (Nicole Farmer), one of his mother’s old friends.  Margie has an adult special-needs daughter, Joyce, whose care requires more help than can be managed on her income (and soon to be lack of income). 

The play introduces her landlord (Holli Saperstein) and her best friend Jean (Claire Bennett). They paint the picture of her life: no savings, no resources, and  answering to a selfish, unfeeling, greedy landlord willing to evict Marige and Joyce at the drop of a hat. Jean mentions she ran into Marge’s old boyfriend at her banquet service job in a hotel. Mike (Lee Lowrimore) now is a doctor; in other words, he is one of the few who got out of the neighborhood and made something of himself. They reason he may need someone to answer phones in his office.

Mike is less than thrilled to find Margie in his office asking for a job. But he is not prepared for her determined attacks upon his pride and accomplishments. Things go from bad to worse when Margie shows up at his house disrupting the tenuous peace he has with his wife, Kate (Lily Nicole). 

Much like “Lobby Hero” (which was produced at Red Barn Studio under Steve Bakunas’ direction) the script of “Good People” has several long, circular monologues and arguments that seem almost impossible to memorize and perform without developing a serious drinking problem. Both playwrights capture how people actually talk and reason with each other.  

Farmer and Lowrimore, have their work cut out for them with writing like this. It takes extensive training and commitment to pull off their roles (let alone the talents it requires for them to work so well off each other). Margie can’t be stronger or weaker than Mike. They are both filled with grit and determination. Driven by pride and pain, they must meet each other moment for moment in this bitter battle. 

Though the ending plot twist favors Margie, the convoluted and muddy wading of the story shifts between the two, which makes for a fascinating, frightening and frustrating evening. These two go at it hard, but restrain from useless screaming and screeching. By the time the terra cotta gets hurled at the floor in anger, the audience is completely invested in both of them (silently chanting for the vase to get thrown, too). Together they hold up a mirror to each other and the audience. The reflection is not flattering and is too real for comfort.

Director Anthony David Lawson assembles a talented cast—and not just for the leads. In particular Nicole, who plays Mike’s wife, Kate, impresses. It is great to see her work with a seasoned director who helps her grow. Much like Margie and Mike could easily descend into a shouting, Nicole could choose to scream in in hysterics. Instead, she expertly simmers and struggles with tightly wound fury; it captivates and shines through powerfully.  The role demands intensity,  especially for one so young. Her ability to pull it off serves as testimony to both her and Lawson. (I look forward to watching her growth in the next few years.) 

The rest of the cast is quite remarkable, too. Maurer plays resigned and disappointed Stevie, who keeps his head down, works hard, and obviously is cowed by the strong and angry women dominating his whole life. 

Saperstein convinces as a truly selfish, awful person that sees herself as kind and generous. (Those are thoughtful reminders she gives Margie about the rent, not threats to evict her.) The comfort and unconscious shorthand between Jean and Margie steals the show: They really talk like lifelong friends, leaving out others in the room who don’t share 40 years of memories together. Between her interactions with both Jean and Mike, Farmer displays one of the great strengths an actress can have: the ability to build and share with others on stage.  

Lance Howell’s set design is fabulous. Red Barn Studio does not have fly space or backstage storage, so everything has to fit together and transform to create a trashed-up alley, a bingo hall, a doctor’s office, Margie’s tenement kitchen, and Mike’s posh living room. That’s a lot to accomplish in such a limited space, but Howell delivers a set that would make a geometry teacher proud and an interior designer jealous. His phone should be ringing off the hook for decorating gigs based on the way he yields the tastes and needs of both Mike and Kate.

There is so much to recommend in this show: a well-crafted script, incredible acting and a fabulous set. The best way to sum it up: It makes audiences lean forward in their seats, literally hanging on every word, not wanting to miss a single gesture or implication.


Good People

Red Barn Studio, 1122 S. 3rd St.
Thurs- Sun, Aug. 15th-16th, 23rd-25th, 28th-30th, 7:30 p.m.; Sun, 3 p.m.
Tickets $25

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