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Theater Review: “Good People”

Kaly McKenna as Margie, Dee Kelley as Dottie
Photo credit:
OnStage Playhouse

"Good People” isn’t playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s best play, but OnStage Playhouse is giving it a smashing production through Sept. 24.

The location is South Boston’s Lower End, aka Southie, and the question under consideration is the old American saw that you can be whatever you want if you just try hard enough.

From Margie’s viewpoint, life seems more like a zero-sum game – somebody wins, somebody loses – and she has always been on the losing end, no matter how hard she tries.

This day, she gets fired from yet another job – this time as cashier at the local Dollar Store – by the young manager Stevie (Markuz Rodriguez), for chronic tardiness related to this single mom’s need to find care for her adult developmentally disabled daughter Joyce.

Margie (Kaly McKenna) spends a lot of her free time playing cards or bingo with landlady Dottie (Dee Kelley) and blonde “mouthy from Southie” friend Jean (Michele Dixon, in a hoot of a performance). Margie depends mostly on Dottie for Joyce’s care.

But Dottie, a retiree, now “works” at night making rabbit figurines out of styrofoam balls glued onto flower pots, which she sells for $5 apiece. That tends to make her oversleep, which in turn makes Margie late for work.

In desperation, Margie goes to visit former Southie classmate (and onetime summer boyfriend) Mike (Chris Tenney), who has made it out of the projects via medical school and now lives with his African-American wife Kate (Ray-Anna Ranae) and their young daughter in the leafy Chestnut Hill area. Margie hopes he might have a job for her.

She’s impressed with his nice office (ribbing him about becoming “lace curtain” Irish since his escape from Southie), though not surprised that he says he has no job for her. In the course of the conversation, Mike lets slip that his wife is planning a birthday party for him.

Margie invites herself, thinking one of Mike’s friends might need office help. He later calls to cancel due to his daughter’s illness, but Margie, certain that he just said that because he doesn’t want her there, decides to show up anyway.

This sets up the second act, a real tour-de-force of awkwardness, pretend cordiality, unfortunate revelations and downright accusations.

Kate is the unwitting cause, as she first assumes Margie is the caterer come to retrieve tables for the canceled event, and then graciously serves up a wine and a cheese plate (with rather more rarefied cheeses than Margie is used to) and asks her for stories about Mike from the past.

The sight of Mike’s “lace curtain” existence, regret that this might have been her life, the pain of her job loss and the tongue-loosening encouraged by the wine set up what will become close to a free-for-all. When Margie mentions her job problems, Kate offers to hire her as babysitter for their daughter – something Mike wants to stop right now.

Mike’s need for Margie to go, Margie’s interest in the job and Kate’s desire to know the truth about the past combine for a finale of anger, resentment, recriminations and even some lies.

Director James P. Darvas has found the perfect cast for this show. Most of them are unknown to me, but every one is perfect for the character. Kaly McKenna’s Margie is a powder keg of disappointment and frustration with just a little hope and a lot of will power.

You can see it all in her face and carriage.

Kelley’s Dottie is the perfect good old girl of a landlady, willing to cut Margie some slack on rent in exchange for the fellowship around the card and bingo tables, but not willing to wait forever for that check.

Chris Tenney’s Mike is a happy escapee from Southie who doesn’t want to remember anything about the past – most especially not his brief affair with Margie. His increasing agitation as she and Kate seem to get along better and better is a study in frustration.

Ray-Anna Ranae is terrific as Kate, the innocent who walks into this explosive situation and isn’t sure how to stop it.

Markuz Rodriguez is excellent as Stevie, the manager with the unpleasant job of firing Margie. He will prove to be another of the “good people” in Margie’s life.

Special kudos to set and lighting designer Chad Oakley and most especially to stage manager Nicole White and her platoon of helpers, who in the 15-minute intermission change the set completely, including heavy furniture and objets d’art. It’s quite a feat.

And bravo to Darvas and this terrific cast. OnStage Playhouse scores again.

The details

“Good People” plays through September 24, 2016 at OnStage Playhouse, 291 Third Avenue (near F Street), Chula Vista.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (619) 422-7787 or www.onstageplayhouse.org