Review by J.A. Di Bello, photos by Jeff Knapp
ELLENVILLE, NY (June 3, 2014) – Well, on a rain-soaked opening night performance of David Lindsay-Abaire’s, Tony Award nominee, “Good People,” there were no doubts. Brendan Burke has once again delivered to the stage of the Shadowland Theatre, located thoughtfully enough in the shadows of the Shawangunk Ridge in downtown Ellenville, a poignant, heartfelt representation of the frailties and frequent humor of the human condition.
On the surface “Good People” is about simple minded prejudices, ethnic stereotypes and the internal conflicts that exist within immigrant groups in and around what are frequently self-imposed ghettos. In this case the South Boston is the location. It is an area known as Southie, once populated by unpolished first and second generation Irish immigrants, who while they shamelessly take derogatory swipes at other minorities, e.g., Blacks, Latinos, Asians are also quick to divide and label their own into shanty Irish, also known as “pig in the parlor Irish” and the hoity-toity, one-step-above “lace curtain Irish.” The issues here become the vehicle effectively employed by David Lindsay-Abaire to expose for all to share the diverse and frequently devastating elements of human pride and dignity as an accepted condition of personal aspiration. It should be pointed out here that David is himself a Southie. He grew up on the streets of South Boston, where his dad was a fruit peddler and his mom a factory worker.
The stage at the Shadowland is open; there’s no proscenium and consequently no curtain. Fortunately, the audience is treated to Carrie Mossman’s enticing set design on entering the theatre, prudently avoiding a common malady in proscenium productions of a set upstaging the actor. Without a count, Carrie’s stage is consumed with doors. Yes, doors! Twenty, twenty-five, perhaps thirty doors, on two levels, some old, some new. So many ways to go, so many choices, some lucky, others offering challenges or arduous paths to be followed, so many consequences and surprises. A brilliant, thematically congruent design.
Often underrated, except when there’s an issue, is the role of the Costume Designer. In this case, Designer Holly Lewis Budd has achieved a level of accomplishment that complements the play and the character. The character to note is the protagonist Margie Walsh. Her idea of a “dress-up-party” outfit is a straight, plain black skirt, a plain collared sweater and what appear to be cheap beads. An actor’s efforts to project the subtleties and innuendos of a character are enhanced by a design that is directed at the same image. In this case, it is most apparent that Hollis McCarthy as Margie Walsh, looks, talks and dresses as a prideful Southie. Consider also, the tightfitting designer jeans fashionably displayed by the young Kate, the doctor’s wife. There’s a message there, too.
Music in a stage drama is frequently a character or a contributing factor with subtle implications. In this production, prior to characters interring, Sound Designer, Jeff Knapp has chosen to greet the audience with an apparent excerpt from an Irish folk dance. And thus the stage is set for a drama that concerns itself with ethnicity, consequences and challenges. Let the play begin!
Lindsay-Abaire’s drama concentrates on the machinations of Margie Walsh, a fifty something single mom with a handicapped daughter, eloquently and effectively brought to life by veteran Hollis McCarthy. Margie has just been dismissed from her job at the dollar store and is observed discussing the issues, consequences and miscellaneous gossip with her two friends Jean and Dottie.
Jean and Dottie, are the talented Yvonne Campbell and C.C. Loveheart respectively. Each adds her own brand of sparkle and humorous brilliance to the characters as they plot and scheme to find acceptable solutions to Margie’s serious situation. Yvonne Campbell’s ability to hold the stage places her in competition with Hollis McCarthy as a point of focus. However, each professional complements the other and the thematic intentions of the predicament are secure.
For those with identifiable connections to ethnic cultures, the usefulness of ethnic based, neighborhood loyalties are identifiable. As a strategy, it is valid for the Irish, as well as other ethnicities. It’s a “from-the-hood mentality,” punctuated by a “Whose- got-your-back?” attitude, accompanied by an essential often misunderstood rule that says: Don’t stray too far!
Margie’s plan is to utilize those neighborhood loyalties to rekindle aspects of a summer romance with Mike Dillon, a boy from the hood and now a fiftyish and prominent physician with a ‘round-about thirtyish wife and child. Margie’s purpose is to find favors and secure employment. Conan McCarty is quick and ready as he represents Dr. Mike Dillon, who is confronted by a sharp, sometimes vulgar Margie who coincidently causes a simultaneous verbal confrontation with the good doctor’s wife, Kate. Conan’s ability to represent the frustration of verbal confrontation with two women through facial expressions and gestures adds an indispensable credence to his physical outrage on stage.
In summation David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People” is a brilliant presentation accurately portraying the work of an accomplished and current playwright. The theme, of course, is not new. Hubris, pride and or the lack of it has been around since the time of the Greeks and in this play it must be said that Hollis McCarthy, as Margie Walsh causes all the pieces to solidify as a unified whole. She, through the use of her exemplary talents as an actor, leads the audience on a journey to discover the various results of her choices and the fragile flaws of her character, Margie. For it is Hollis who portrays a Margie who for one moment solicits empathy for her plight as a single mom with a handicapped daughter and in her next accusatory breath causes the inklings of sympathy to dissipate as quickly as “Snow in August.”