If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

“Good People" at TheaterWorks

Ending its successful run at TheaterWorks next Wednesday, “Good People,” David Lindsay-Abaire’s immensely moving and up-to-the-minute contemporary drama, has been well served in Hartford. Under Rob Ruggiero’s fluid direction, the play is a sweet, often very funny yet sorrowful paean to the American working class, most specifically the lower-middle class residents of South Boson. Full disclosure: I recently directed a production of “Good People,” so it is a work near and dear to my heart. In Hartford, I found much to admire with one serious caveat. More about that later.

“Good People” charts the sad journey of Margie (Erika Rolfsrud), who has been fired from her minimum wage job at the local Dollar Store as the play begins. She seeks solace from her best friend, Jean (a wry and funny Megan Byrne) and not-so-generous landlady, Dottie (Audrie Neenan). All are on the paycheck-to-paycheck living spectrum and Margie has the extra pressure of being a single mom to a mentally retarded daughter. Jean suggests that Margie visit Dr. Mike Dillon (R. Ward Duffy) to ask him for a job. Mike is a former “Southie” who has since made good. Margie is initially reluctant, but her need for work overcomes any reservations she may have, including the fact that she and Mike used to date. Her confrontation with this aspect of her past makes up the bulk of a riveting second act.

At Hartford, I had serious problems with Ms. Rolfsrud’s lead performance as Margie. As written, the character can and should be unlikable but also understandable. Rolfsrud has the hard-bitten outer shell of Margie completely intact, but what is lacking is any sense of vulnerability which is revealed in a crucial act two breakdown. When it comes, the tears are produced on cue, but everything seems mechanical because nothing of the character’s inner core had been suggested up to that point. I found the same lack of plausible vulnerability with Rolfsrud’s performances in previous TheaterWorks’ productions of “Time Stands Still” and “Rabbit Hole.” On more than one occasion in “Good People” it is said that Margie is “too nice,” but absolutely no evidence of that quality is found in Rolfsrud’s rendering.

That misstep aside, “Good People” still manages to deliver the goods in Rob Ruggiero’s beautifully paced production. R. Ward Duffy, so memorable in the theatre’s “The Other Place” last season, is equally fine here in the difficult role of the good-on-the-surface doctor. And Chandra Thomas, as his young, African-American wife, may be too deliberate in speech in her opening scenes but she nails the character’s passive/aggressive attitude with acid wit. Buddy Haardt is also quite touching as Margie’s Dollar Store boss who, eventually, is not all that he seems.

Luke Hegel-Cantarella’s superior scenic design manages to evoke the best and poorest sections of Boston admirably and it is all highlighted by John Lasiter’s expert lighting. “Good People” is a modern classic that should continue to move audiences for years to come. It concludes its run at TheaterWorks on July 1.

For further information and ticket reservations call the box office at: 860.527.7838 or visit: www.theaterworkshartford.org


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