Sometimes seeing a new production of a play you are familiar with can offer an assortment of riches that you didn’t even know was there. Such is the case with TheaterWorks’ current, electrifying production of “Good People.” Going in, I knew that David Lindsay-Abaire’s play was a fine one; what I didn’t count on was just how devastating this work could truly be. Under the razor-sharp direction of Rob Ruggiero, and featuring a flawless cast who really dig into their material, this production of “Good People” is a real stunner, both tough and funny, proving to be a theatrical experience that can truly take your breath away. “Good People” at TheaterWorks is a riveting show and should be required viewing for anyone interested in the theatre.
I realized there was something different in this production of “Good People” right from the first scene. The character of Margaret (brilliantly played by Erika Rolfsrud) is unceremoniously being let go by her boss Stevie (the terrific Buddy Haardt) from her job at Family Dollar simply because she has become “unreliable,” showing up consistently late to work. As Margaret keeps talking trying to change Stevie’s mind (especially reminding him that she knew his mother), one can see just how desperate this character is. Perhaps it is the acting or the direction or the pacing of this scene that makes this moment so heartbreaking in a way I wasn’t expecting, being familiar with this play. Suffice it is to say that, from this opening scene on, director Rob Ruggiero mines “Good People” for all it is worth and, believe me, it is quite a ride.
It should be mentioned that “Good People” takes place in an area of Boston called “Southie,” in which just about everyone in the play is trying to get out of. Indeed, the character of Mike (sensationally portrayed by R. Ward Duffy) in the play is an example of someone who did manage to get out of “Southie.” Mike is someone Margaret knew from high school, who has become a doctor, whom she goes to visit in hopes of getting a job. The scenes between Margaret and Mike are emotionally charged in a way that I hadn’t experienced before, with just about every line infused with some underlining meaning.
This production’s other characters also feel newly minted. As Dottie, Margaret’s landlady, Audrie Neenan is a riot, with the running gag of the toy rabbits that she makes with Styrofoam balls and how she is always trying to sell them. But there is also a cunning edge to a great deal of her lines, especially dealing with how Margaret will pay the rent having just lost her job, that call in to question just how genuine her friendship with Margaret truly is. In the second act, “Good People” introduces the character of Mike’s wife Kate, who is grandly played by Chandra Thomas, and she proves to be much more multi-dimensional and complex than I had remembered her being. Finally, Margaret’s hilarious and mouthy friend Jean (a sassy and spectacular Megan Byrne) threatens to steal the show simply with the various exasperated expressions on her face.
Still, David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People” ultimately belongs to Erika Rolfsrud’s Margaret. This actress brings such deep and complicated feelings to her every moment that one can’t help but root for her, even when some of her words and intentions come across as less than pleasant. Credit Erika Rolfsrud and her wonderful fellow cast members for helping make TheaterWorks’ production such a triumph, but the real hero of the evening may be director Rob Ruggiero. His pacing of the show and direction of the actors, as well as his work with his excellent designers, is simply astonishing and he transforms “Good People” into a true knockout of a show. My only regret about “Good People” at TheaterWorks is that I didn’t get to see the show until near the end of its run, so there isn’t really time for me to recommend to everyone what a must-see this production truly is.
“Good People” continues performances at TheaterWorks in Hartford, CT through July 1, 2015. For tickets, please visit www.theaterworkshartford.org or call the box office at (860) 527-7838.