LATHAM – David Lindsay-Abaire is the best playwright you’ve probably never heard of. And, his ”Good People,” is likely the best play you never heard of.
I can think of no better introduction to both than to attend Latham’s Curtain Call Theatre production of “Good People,” before it closes on February 8. It’s thoughtful, dynamic theater about real, decent and flawed people who are struggling with life and personal relationships.
“Good People” is a play about the conflict that happens when the past collides with the present. When former lovers meet after three decades, the perception of truth versus reality is put to the test. Both people remember shared experiences but each brings their own interpretation to the events.
But “Good People” is more than a tense play about basically good people interpreting the past for their own benefit; it is, essentially, a probing piece of theater that illustrates the difficulty of owning one’s personal choices. As such, it is a work that encourages you to realize the present is really the only true reality.
The central figure is Margaret, a single woman who is raising a handicapped daughter. Uneducated and lacking sophistication, Margaret is an intuitively smart woman who is the victim of a difficult life. Nearing 50 years of age, her future is as bleak as was her past.
She has just lost her menial job because of constant tardiness. Desperate for help, she acts on the advice of a friend who encourages her to ask for a job from a former boyfriend she hasn’t seen in 30 years.
Mike is now a wealthy doctor who is proud of his success. Yet he still identifies with his former life as a rough kid from the slums of South Boston who brawled indiscriminately and loved casually. He is reluctant to let Margaret into his life but is not able to dismiss her out of hand.
Margaret manipulates an invitation to a party at Mike’s house. She shows up, even though the party was canceled. This permits her to meet Kate, Mike’s wife, a beautiful, younger African-American woman, who is curious about Mike’s early life. Kate finds out more than she wants but is uncertain about the truths that are revealed. It is uncertain whether Margaret is a wronged woman or, just as likely, a schemer intent on pressuring Mike for help.
The compelling dilemma is enhanced by two superb performances that portray Margaret and Mike as decent people trapped by a need to be free from the past. They come to realize this can only happen when they own their personal history.
Colleen Lovett creates a Margaret who is vulnerable yet edgy. Lovett plays her as a street-smart type who can feel sorry for herself, yet denies pity from others. She is not an aggressive woman until threated, and then she strikes like a rattlesnake. Lovett’s brilliance in the role is that she makes a woman who hardly understands herself seem coherent even in her most conflicted moments. By play’s end we deeply care about this woman, which is a remarkable achievement.
Patrick White, one of the area’s best and most active actors, offers a great modulated performance in what might be the finest work of his career. Mike is another complicated character. Unlike Margaret, he has escaped a life of poverty and has overcome his possibly racist youth to marry and love an African-American woman whom he apparently cheats on. Yet, White eloquently projects Mike’s need to be a respectable person, even though his behavior often suggests otherwise.
Guided by the wise direction by Chris Foster, both Lovett and White are encouraged to reveal their character’s true natures by showing their flaws – thus making them very human people – who are often funny as well.
While Foster gets marvelous performances from his leads, his directing skills are perhaps best appreciated by the way he nurtures impressive work from a mostly inexperienced supporting cast.
Stacey Rowland as the wife Kate is a calm presence as the sophisticated woman who finds it difficult to accept new insights about her husband’s character. Andrea Valenti and Resa Tanner are comic fun as Margaret’s bingo addicted friends and Adam Landsberg finds the decency of Stevie who must fire Margaret.
“Good People” is a compelling play about people who seem different from ourselves - but not as much as we’d like to believe. Do see it.
“Good People” at Curtain Call Theatre, Latham. Through February 8. Performances 7:30 p.m. Thrusdays, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday,3 p.m. Sunday.
Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.
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