We have frequently used the statement "theatre is alive and well in New Jersey" in response to the many excellent productions we've had the privilege to review these past several years. Artistic directors such as McCarter's Emily Mann, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's Bonnie J. Monte and the George Street's David Saint (all New Jersey treasures) continually present productions equal or superior to anything found on the other side of the Hudson.
This past Sunday we journeyed to the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick to see "Good People" by the author of two favorite plays,"Rabbit Hole" and "Fuddy Meers," David Lindsay-Abaire. The result; we were rewarded with an experience best described with one simple word "wow." This play, these performers, the creative effort of the production team, all combined to remind us again of the incomparable magic of live theatre. This is brilliant theatre.
Far different than his quirky and very funny "Fuddy Meers" David Lindsay-Abaire sets his play about the struggles of life in the blue collar, working class area of South Boston where he grew up and a local is called "Southie."
The heroine-victim of "Good People" is Margaret, played brilliantly by Ellen McLaughlin. Margaret is a 50-ish single mom, with a young adult retarded daughter, who can barely pay her bills at the $9.25 per hour she earns as a cashier at a 'Dollar Value' store. As the play opens she is fired from the job for chronic tardiness, due to the lackadaisical attitude of her babysitter who also happens to be her landlady. The young store manager fires her in the alley amidst trash cans.
With the job options almost non-existent due to the recession, Margaret desperately seeks out, after 30 years, her high school sweetheart Mike now a successful and married Boston doctor in hopes of obtaining a position in his office....even cleaning if necessary. Each has a vastly different story of how they either climbed out of their original lower class world, as in the case of Mike, or remained trapped by circumstances, in Margaret's case, mostly beyond her control.
In addition to Ellen McLauglin as Margaret, the superior cast includes John Bolger as Mike. Bolger is as fine in "Good People" as he was in last season's "Twelve Angry Men" (winner of our 'Footlight' award for one of the best plays of 2012 - link to article below); Cynthia Lauren Tewes, a marvelous comedian, is Dottie, Margaret's landlady, babysitter and bingo buddy; Marianne Owen is Margaret's best friend Jean; Mike's wife is played by Zakiya Young; and Eric Riedmann is Stevie a young friend from the neighborhood and the "Dollar Value" store manager.
Beyond the brilliant (we don't use this word lightly) play and cast is the extremely impressive staging. A trio of large blank panels cover the stage between scenes illuminated, by video projection, with a series of huge photos of South Boston and key story locations. As each scene begins the panels glide away revealing the impressive sets. The outstanding production team includes; scenic designer James Youmans, costume designer David Murin, sound designer/composer Scott Killian, and lighting designer Charlie Morrison.
This is a thoroughly satisfying, well-written, thought-provoking play that at its core is sad, but yet has many funny moments. It is hard not to look at Margaret without coming away wondering about our own life choices. It is beautifully directed by David Saint (George Street Playhouse's Artistic Director). This is five-star entertainment.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio February 3, 2013
Pulitzer Prize-winning David Lindsay-Abaire’s "Good People" runs through Sunday, February 24. "Good People" is produced in association with Seattle Repertory Theatre, and will move there following its New Brunswick run.
Individual tickets, starting at $28, are currently on sale, as are 3-play and flexible admission packages. For information or tickets contact the GSP Box Office, 732-246-7717, or visit www.GSPonline.org. In addition, discount for groups of 10 or more are available through the GSP Group Sales office; call 732-846-2895, ext. 134, or email email@example.com for further information.
George Street Playhouse is located at 9 Livingston Avenue, in the heart of New Brunswick’s dining and entertainment district.
Special note: At the performance prior to the 2011 Broadway production's closing night, an audience member's cell phone "boldly rang in the [theater] ... and the woman took the call". According to Michael Musto in The Village Voice:
"Hello?" she [the audience member] screeched -- though she would have been more accurate if she'd said, "I'm the dumbest pinhead in history!" Francis McDormand (Margie) stopped in her tracks, put her arm around co-star Renee Elise Goldsberry, and deadpanned, "Let's wait." After the unwanted bit of audience business was settled and silenced, McDormand made a rewind gesture and said to Goldsberry, "OK, ask me the question again." And they resumed the scene.