Reviewed by Barry Lenny
The Adelaide Repertory Theatre Society is presenting David Lindsay-Abaire‘s 2011 dark comedy, Good People, directed by Nick Fagan. They say that you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, so starting with a well-written, powerful script gives a director a huge advantage, and this is precisely what Fagan had, with which to work. That, alone, is not enough, of course. A cast that is up to the challenges of that script is essential, and Fagan has assembled such a cast. Even better, he knows how to use pauses to great effect.
The play is set in two very different locations, the first act in South Boston’s (colloquially known as Southie) blue-collar Lower End, and the second act in upmarket Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. The play has it all, racism, sexism, ageism, and class bigotry, with the snobbery directed in both directions.
Margaret ‘Margie’ Walsh, a single mother of an adult, mentally challenged daughter, Joycey, has just lost her latest job, at the Dollar Store, sacked for habitual lateness by her boss, Stevie Grimes, under pressure from his own superiors, and she is about to lose her home, being unable to pay the rent to her appropriately named landlady, Dottie.
With her world collapsing, and at her Wit’s End, Margie is persuaded by her friend, Jean, to approach Mike Dillon, who was once Margie’s high school boyfriend, for two months. He is now a very successful doctor, a fertility specialist, and has returned from Washington, D.C. to an office in Boston, after 20 years away. She is hoping that he will help her by giving her a job. She manages to get herself invited to a party at his home, turning up, even though he had told her that it had been cancelled because his daughter was unwell.
The second act is all about that meeting between the two of them and Mike’s beautiful and considerably younger (trophy?) wife, Kate.The role of Margie, who is onstage for the entire performance, is filled by Rachel Burfield, who brings extensive experience to her character. It would be easier to list the companies with whom she hasn’t yet worked, than those with whom she has already performed major roles. She offers a tour de force performance as Margie, exploring every twist and turn in the script, from trying, but failing, to employ emotional blackmail, to blaming luck for her situation and refusing to accept that she might have made better decisions.
Nicholas Bishop, who plays Mike, is another very experienced performer, and he is equally at home in musicals and operettas, having studied voice with the wonderful, Guila Tiver. He shows all of the awkwardness that Mike feels when confronted by the past that he had left behind, while trying to deny that he no longer fits in with his roots. There is fine work as a man who is on the back foot the whole time.
Keep your eyes open for further performances by Rhoda Sylvester, who plays Mike’s intelligent, educated wife, a Professor of Literature at Boston University, Kate. Based on her performance in the role, I predict that we will see big things from her and, no doubt, directors will soon be fighting over her. Even during long interchanges between Margie and Mike, in which she has no dialogue herself, she remains completely involved, her physical demeanour, and facial expressions telling us so much about the effect that it is having on her character.
Burfield and Bishop are not, by any means, the only members of the cast who are bringing a wealth of experience to the production. Lyn Crowther is a delight as the rather vague, foul-mouthed, Dottie, supposedly Margie’s friend but, with friends like her, who needs enemies? At the first sign of Margie being unable to pay the rent, Dottie is considering throwing her out. Cate Rogers gives a strong performance as Margie’s rough, tough, bossy, no-nonsense friend, Jean. She creates a character that you know is not somebody that you would want to cross.
Curtis Shipley, who plays Margie’s boss, Stevie Grimes, has a most diverse performance background, including improvisation, theatre games, stand-up comedy, films and, of course, theatre. He gives a sensitive reading to the role of the boss, reluctant in his unavoidable task of dismissing Margie, and still looking out for her in her adversity.
The first act features a three-piece set: the back door of the Dollar Store in the alley, Margie’s room at Dottie’s place, and Mike’s office. As the lights came up on the second act, the set for Mike’s luxury home received a round of applause. Brittany Daw created the set design, which was well-lit by Richard Parkhill.