by Stu Brown
Margaret, the central character in David Lindsay-Abaire’s riveting drama, Good People, now at TheaterWorks in Hartford, is a very unlucky person. She has just lost another job and is facing eviction from the apartment she shares with her developmentally disabled daughter. The single, middle-aged woman, a lifelong Southie resident (the nickname for the South Boston locale), cannot catch a break until she discovers an old flame from the neighborhood is back in Boston. A high-powered doctor, she hopes he can help her find work. Instead, their interactions prove toxic, as distant relationships are reexamined and long forgotten memories unearthed.
Lindsay-Abaire has written a well-crafted play that uses his own Southie upbringing as a backdrop. Issues of class, loyalty, friendship and morality are explored by the playwright. He brings out the emotional torment and individual frailties of the characters. At the same time, however, there is a lot of laughter in the show, which gives the audience a respite from the mostly heartbreaking action on stage.
The cast is impressive, led by Erika Rolfsrud, who gave such an outstanding performance in the TheaterWorks production of Time Stands Still two years ago. She totally embodies the complexities of Margaret, showing us, at turns, her pain, desperateness, wit and humor. R. Ward Duffy, who plays Mike, the prodigal son returning to his roots, is enmeshed between his hardscrabble past and comforts of his current life. He sometimes comes off as too hotheaded and thin skinned, but that has more to do with the way his character is written. Megan Byrne as Margaret’s friend, Jean, is a pistol with a sharp tongue and no-nonsense attitude. Audrie Neenan’s character of Dottie, an older so-called friend of the two women, unreliable sitter and Margaret’s landlord, gives a rough edged texture to her role. Chandra Thomas as Mike’s wife, Kate, is the least defined character in the play. Clues to her background and beliefs are hinted at during her scenes. However, Thomas, both subtly and forcefully, demonstrates she is not someone to take lightly or mess around with. Buddy Haardt is splendid in the supporting role of Stevie, another neighborhood lifer looking to fit in and survive.
Director Rob Ruggiero fully fleshes out each character and enlivens each scene with the appropriate level of passion necessary. Even parts of the show that have the performers simply sitting side-by-side, complaining, dreaming and gossiping show a focused purpose. He gives the play an intensity and nervousness, which can be, at times, uncomfortable, for the audience.
Luke Hegel-Cantarella’s video projections are smartly done and provide a gritty realism of the South Boston area during the scene changeovers. They truly add to the theatrical dynamics of the production.
Good People, a soul-searching drama, playing through June 28th.