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'Good People': A biting look at the social divide

(L-R) Chris Hutchison as Mike and Elizabeth Bunch as Margaret in the Alley Theatre’s production of Good People. Photo by John Everett.
(L-R) Chris Hutchison as Mike and Elizabeth Bunch as Margaret in the Alley Theatre’s production of Good People. Photo by John Everett.
(L-R) Chris Hutchison as Mike and Elizabeth Bunch as Margaret in the Alley Theatre’s production of Good People. Photo by John Everett.

Good People

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Alley Theatre's latest production on the Neuhaus Stage "Good People" offers a comedic yet honest look at the societies ever-widening class divide. This play was nominee for Best Play at the Tony Awards and named Best Play for 2010-2011 by the New York Drama Critics Circle.

Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire has found critical stage acclaim for his plays as well as screen credits, which include his film adaptation of his play "Rabbit Hole" (2010) starring Aaron Eckart and Nicole Kidman, “Oz: The Great and Powerful” and “Robots” among others. Lindsay-Abaire creates unique, relatable characters that have mass audience appeal around stories that are socially relevant.

James Black’s direction takes the words on the page and uses them to ebb and flow towards it’s volatile climax. Although on a smaller stage, the scenic and light design by Kevin Rigdon truly brings the production together. Rigdon has a crew that flawlessly transitions between sets, never missing a beat disassembling and reassembling offices, allies and living areas with ease. Palmela Prather, the dialect, voice and text coach is to be applauded. The accents sound as of the actors were Boston born.

"Good People" set in South Boston's Lower End, tells the story of Margaret (Elizabeth Bunch) a mother of a mentally disabled daughter who gets fired from her Dollar Store cashier job by Stevie (Dylan Godwin), the son of a friend of Margaret’s. Despite him doing what he must to survive, now she is faced with finding out how she is to keep her apartment without a job. After being fired, Margaret speaks with Dottie (Jennifer Harmon), her landlord and sitter for her daughter when she works and friend, Jean (Melissa Pritchett). Jean mentions that she ran into Mike (Chris Hutchinson), a former Southie and now successful doctor, who she believes Margaret should see about getting another job.

Bunch plays another unique and different character than her other recent Alley Theatre productions as Joss in “Fool” and Brooke Wyeth in "Other Desert Cities". Bunch proves that she can play both comic and serious, emotionally driven characters as she takes on bringing Margret to the stage. She plays this quick-witted, sharped tongued, down on her luck mother with conviction that the audience can't help but sympathize with her struggle. Her drive and desire for employment is one not only her character but also others in the play and thousands in our society struggle with every day.

Jean is the kind of friend we all have pushing us to do what we need and have to do in order to get by. Pritchett is a complement to Bunch on stage with her commanding presence. Her character is opinionated and strong willed and believes in doing whatever is needed to survive, despite the morality.
Although audiences are introduced to Mike in the first Act, we don't truly see him until Act II. After reaching out to him for a job, it is revealed that his wife is throwing him a birthday party that weekend and Margaret gets invited. Just before the event, he calls and cancels yet Margaret doesn’t quite believe the story and shows up anyway. Here audiences meet Kate (Krystel Lucas), Mike's wife. She is a kind, young, black woman that serves to ignite the underplaying racial issues still prevalent today in our society. Kate, after mistaking Margaret for working for their caterer, invites her to enjoy some wine and cheese with them.

After being invited in, all hell "pardon my French" (as Margaret says), breaks loose. All the issues, past and present arise and none of the three will be the same after. This scene is the most powerful and intense of the production. Each character is filled with such emotion and conviction. Audiences begin to discover who among them is and is not "good people”, and really what such an expression really means in the reality of life.

Bunch, Hutchinson and Lucas each command the stage. Bunch pulls out all the stops as her character clings to any hope of survival and a future. Hutchinson plays Mike a man who has made mistakes and wants to move from his past in such a convincing manner, he seems personally connected to the character. Lucas plays Kate the loving, jovial housewife and mother with grace and ease.

Kate's character offers a balance between Mike and Margaret. Mike is hot headed and embodies the lucky that escape their fate whereas Margaret is the one who stayed behind, became a proud, won't ask for handouts townie mother and Kate is the outsider to their past, a normal wife just trying to love her husband and live her life as a professor and mother.

In the end, as so often in life, it never works out as one might imagine. Life isn't a pretty picture and people win and lose. Sometimes people escape their past and are "lucky" while others seem to rot away. Life is depicted realistically, sometimes good people do stupid or bad things in order to get by but does that make them bad for it? Sometimes people get lucky and beat the odds while others don't? Whose fault is it for how your life turns out?

There aren't any easy answers and this play allows that honesty to hit the audience in the face. Sometimes you just scrap by but it seems there is always something else waiting on the horizon. Whether we have a choice or not in how our lives turn out, sometimes it is nice to see that our struggles aren't only ours to suffer and that sometimes we just have to take it day by day and see where we end up.

“Good People” is playing now at the Alley Theatre on the Neuhaus Stage. It plays through June 29. For ticket information, visit their site alleytheatre.org, at the Alley Theatre Box Office, 615 Texas Avenue, or by calling 713-220-5700. Be sure to check out their exciting newly released line up for the 2014-2015 seasons, which will be seen at UH while the Alley undergoes renovations. Find out how you can get your season tickets now and never miss one exciting, hilarious, or thought provoking moment.