Good People

September 22, 2012

in Plays

Play (2011)
by David Lindsay-Abaire

Huntington Theatre Company
Boston University Theatre

September 14 – October 14, 2012

Directed by Kate Whoriskey

Scenic Design by Alexander Dodge

Costume Design: Ilona Somogyi, Lighting Design: Matthew Richards, Origian Music and Sound Design: Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen

With Johanna Day (Margaret), Nick Westrate (Stevie), Nancy E. Carroll (Dottie), Karen MacDonald (Jean), Michael Laurence (Mike), Rachael Holmes (Kate)

Nancy E. Carroll (Dottie), Johanna Day (Margaret), Karen MacDonald (Jean)

Nancy E. Carroll (Dottie), Johanna Day (Margaret), Karen MacDonald (Jean)
Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Courtesy Huntington Theatre Company

A beautifully written and produced account of people, now middle-aged, who were teenagers together in South Boston in the early 1970s.

Having grown up, and still living, in South Boston, Margaret (Johanna Day) faces a financial crisis. She carries the burden of a daughter with special needs and she is desperate. Following the advice of her friend Jean (Karen MacDonald), she gets in touch with her old boyfriend, Mike (Michael Laurence) who has moved on and up, with the hope to network in a realm where she might find work. When Margaret encounters Mike in his new environment, the drama unfolds as the past gradually reveals itself.

This wonderfully written play traces a fairly simple narrative, but does it so artfully that its dramatic turns resonate powerfully. The subtle twists of the plot are created ingeniously, but not at all falsely. Each element follows plausibly and, in the end, one gets the sense of having watched the making of a wonderfully intricate dramatic clock.

Childhood bonds that emerge from South Boston – Southie – a forcefully identified white working-class neighborhood, particularly in the early 1970s when the main characters were teenagers, form the template for the complications that ensue.

In the second act, when Margaret, superbly embodied by Johanna Day, seeks out her old boyfriend, Mike (Michael Laurence), and, in doing so, encounters both him and his wife, Kate (Rachael Holmes) at their lavish home, the subtle dramas emerge. In charged conversation, elements of the past emerge which strongly test the relationships in the present.

Johanna Day (Margaret) and Nick Westrate (Stevie)

Johanna Day (Margaret) and Nick Westrate (Stevie)
Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Courtesy Huntington Theatre Company

Johanna Day does a remarkable job here in the leading role, truly embodying the accent, bearing and attitude of this salt of the earth character from Southie. She was also wonderful last year in the Huntington’s production of Yazmina Reza’s God of Carnage, but here she really gets to strut her stuff.

As Margaret’s compatriots in South Boston, Jean, played by Karen Macdonald, and Dottie, played by Nancy E. Carroll, are greatly effective.

I have seen Karen Macdonald numerous times over the years at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge where she was a long-time member of the resident company. As well, in the past year, I saw her in several other productions around town – Commonwealth Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Speakeasy Stage Company’s The Drowsy Chaperone, and especially enjoyed her performance as a romantic cop in the Lyric Stage’s excellent performance of Superior Donuts last season. Here, as in that production, Macdonald’s talents are used to the hilt. As Margaret’s contemporary, she is down to earth, believable and wonderfully funny.

Nancy E. Carroll, who plays an older compatriot, is also very good.

Nick Westrate, as Stevie, Margaret’s young boss and fellow Bingo player, carries off combinations officiousness and compassion in a most capable way. He does a good job in a role that appears to travel within a single dimension until we see that dimension expand. In his own understated style, Westrate displays both ends of the spectrum subtly but adroitly.

As Mike, Margaret’s old, now richer, boyfriend, Michael Laurence is perfectly capable, but comes across as a little too refined for the transformed Southie kid. One would think that someone with his trajectory would echo a bit more of that history. He does not carry his accent with him, as do Margaret and Jean (done pitch perfectly by both Johanna Day and Karen MacDonald), and that seems a bit off.

Michael Laurence (Mike), Rachael Holmes (Kate), Johanna Day (Margaret)

Michael Laurence (Mike), Rachael Holmes (Kate), Johanna Day (Margaret)
Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Courtesy Huntington Theatre Company

Rachael Holmes, however, as Kate, Mike’s younger, African-American wife, is ebullient, charming and striking. And, when the times come for her to react, she does so with good seismographic sensitivity, aware of the rumblings even when they are far away. The energy she conveys comes across sincerely, as does the strong feeling that emerges.

The only small element of the dialogue that struck me as a bit off – in an otherwise beautifully tuned script – was during Rachael’s railing at Margaret towards the end of the second act. The tone of the accusations did not seem to fit quite right with the turns of the plot at that point.

The capable direction by Kate Whoriskey shows compellingly in the consistently good results of the company.

And the sets, done by Alexander Dodge, are most ingeniously and tastefully done. A series of scene transitions during the first act are orchestrated beautifully. In the second act, the set is grand, striking, and, as with almost everything else about this production, done artfully, all in all yielding a most satisfying experience at the theatre.

– BADMan

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