Good People

In wrestling valiantly with David Lindsay-Abaire's tough play, the artists of Different Stages prove themselves good people

Old home week: Mike (Tom Chamberlain) gets a visit from the neighborhood in the person of Margie (Rebecca Ann Robinson)
Old home week: Mike (Tom Chamberlain) gets a visit from the neighborhood in the person of Margie (Rebecca Ann Robinson) (Photo courtesy of Bret Brookshire)

Good People

City Theatre, 3823-D Airport, 512/926-6747
Through May 11
Running time: 2 hr.

Having now attended several Different Stages productions, I've developed a fondness for the company. Perhaps this has to do with something that Artistic Director Norman Blumensaadt once said to me: "All theatre should be of its community." I have carried this simple yet vital commentary on what it means to be a "community theatre" to each Different Stages production I've experienced, and every time I've felt the ghost of Norman's wise words palpably played out.

Such was my observation with the company's production of Good People. Though not my favorite Different Stages offering, the company of actors wrestles admirably with an especially difficult script, making a valiant attempt to sculpt some much-needed dimension out of David Lindsay-Abaire's somewhat meandering play.

Rebecca Ann Robinson leads the fight as Margie, a down-on-her-luck (and recently unemployed) dollar store clerk desperate for work in Boston's tough Southie neighborhood. Robinson triumphs as the self-proclaimed ball-busting Margie, far and away the play's most well-crafted character. The actress' ability to balance Margie's desire for a "way out" with an always prevailing empathy evokes a certain pathos that is largely responsible for moving us through the piece. Her former high school friend-turned-doctor Mike (laudably portrayed by Tom Chamberlain) is a more perplexing character, one lacking Margie's distinctive through-line. We also meet Margie's conniving friend Jean (Anne Hulsman), landlord-sans-filter Dottie (Jean Budney), and former dollar store boss Stevie (Porter Gandy). Throw into the mix Mike's equally perplexing wife Kate (Kera Machelle Blay), and you have what might appear on the surface to be the ingredients of a sitcom. But The Mary Tyler Moore Show this is not. This juxtaposition – a very real, searing grit set with a slate of characters often deployed for laughs in other narratives – is probably the play's greatest asset. It subverts expectations and, for those who enjoy a good twist with their Good People, a surprise ending awaits around the corner.

Director Karen Jambon had her work cut out for her. Southie is traditionally known as an Irish-American neighborhood, requiring a great deal of specific dialect work that doesn't flow quite successfully from her actors. As written, the scenes are often too long, resulting in the need for a somewhat quickened pace (equaled by rapid scene changes). The often-lumbering dialogue calls for a bit more pressure on the gas pedal than it is given here. Like her cast, Jambon mounts these tasks with vigor, and the result is applause-worthy, but not spectacular.

Was this particular play a bad choice for Different Stages? That's not for me to say. But one thing I know to be true: Different Stages is indeed a theatre of community – and that's good, people.

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Good People, Austin theatre, Different Stages, Norman Blumensaadt, David Lindsay-Abaire, Tom Chamberlain, Rebecca Ann Robinson, Anne Hulsman, Porter Gandy, Kera Machelle Blay, Jean Budney

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