Friday, March 29, 2013

Good People, Cleveland Play House

(From left: Zoey Martinson as Kate, David Andrew macdonald as Mike and Kate Hodge as Margie.)

Sometimes a bland title can hide a funny and even gripping show, and such is the case with Good People now at the Cleveland Play House.

Written by the talented playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, this deceivingly amusing script tracks the travails of divorced Margie Walsh. The “g” in Margie’s name is hard, just like her life—this lifelong resident of hardscrabble South Boston loses her clerk job at a dollar store, fired by neighborhood buddy Stevie within a couple minutes of the curtain rising.

With a handicapped adult daughter at home (the unseen Joyce), and landlady Dottie hinting at throwing Margie out of her apartment, Margie needs some cash fast. So her pal Jean plants the idea of Margie hitting up old high school squeeze Mike for a job, since he’s now a successful doctor living in a cushy Boston suburb.

So far, this seems like a serious drama, but in this playwright’s hands the laughs come fast and furious. Sure some of the set-ups are a bit contrived, such as the rat-a-tat straight line/punch line conversations taking place at a Bingo hall where these Southie friends go for recreation.

But once Margie wrangles a grudging invitation from Mikey to attend a party at his house, the sparks start to fly. After an applause-inducing set reveal, we see Margie interact with Mikey and his Georgetown-bred black wife Kate on their own cosseted turf.

As race and class lines overlap and collide, the heat builds up to a fine simmer. And no one comes out of it exactly smelling like a rose.

Under Laura Kepley’s adept direction, the CPH cast is generally excellent, finding all the humor and landing some real shivers along the way.

As Margie, Kate Hodge is a feisty bundle of nerve and sinew as she fights engagingly to stay afloat in her capsizing life. But she never quite captures the suffering, desperate side of her character, often smiling a bit too easily and not fully conveying the enormous stress that Margie is under.

The members of her Bingo posse are all on point, with Elizabeth Rich as the washed out but emotional Jean garnering the most laughs. But Denny Dillon as crabby Dottie and Patrick Haley as intent, well-meaning Stevie each have their moments.

David Andrew Macdonald hits a nice blend of sophistication with a dash of Southie temper as Mike, and Zoey Martinson’s Kate is splendid—showing hospitable warmth and then flaring up when she cops to Margie’s admitted deceit.

Unfortunately, the play ends one scene too late, as the playwright seeks to put a happy gloss on Margie’s life. It would have been so much more telling to end a couple minutes earlier, on one of Margie’s defiant wisecracks.

Still, Good People is good show. Often very good.

Good People
Through April 14 at the Cleveland Play House, 1407 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000

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