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Thoughtful comedy is Play House gem

“Good People,” on stage at the Cleveland Play House, is a show that will boost your resolution that theater will not only survive, but thrive as well. It is the ideal melding of a strong contemporary script with performers who completely draw and color their characters.

Margie has just been fired from her job as a dollar store cashier because of her tardiness. She has a grown daughter with autism who needs attention. Living in a poorer Boston neighborhood, her friends offer counseling at the local church’s bingo games. They suggest Margie visit one of their friends, who “escaped” the syndrome of lower class status and has become a doctor. It helps that Margie had a brief fling with him before he went off to college and medical school. Margie does not get a job but wheedles her way into an invitation to a party at the wealthy doctor’s house. Maybe one of his rich friends can find a job for her.

“Good People” was a sensation on Broadway two years ago, nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play. Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire’s script is remarkable. The five characters are, in some ways, “good people.” However, they are fully formed and have faults and dark places in their past. Though it is a comedy, “Good People” is a modern-day morality tale, similar to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil.” In that story, a good minister suddenly shows up in a black veil, causing chaos in his Puritan congregation when he says the veil may be a sign of secret sin, which everyone has. In this show, each of the six characters has dark spots. Some are brought to light, and some only hinted at. Stevie, who fires Margie at the dollar store, may have a crush on her. Dottie plays a dual role in Margie’s life, as friend and landlady. Doctor Mike and his wife, Kate, are conflicted with each other and their relationship with Margie. All of this is set in the first act, which has solid curtain-to-curtain laughs.

The second act of “Good People” is mostly set at Mike and Kate’s large suburban home. Kudos to Mimi Lien’s set design. The locations grow from an alleyway to the home, which boasts a totally impractical two-level foyer. It’s perfect. In this large and largely sterile environment, the facade of superficial friendliness is quickly stripped away, with raw emotions emerging, ebbing and flowing as each character constantly re-evaluates his relationship with the others.

Kate Hodge is an attractive Margie. We can imagine that under other circumstances this character would fit nicely in the upper class world of the “lace curtain Boston” families. Hodge nicely builds the layers of despair through the show. Her friends Dottie and Jean are realistically created by Denny Dillon and Elizabeth Rich. Both use their perfect comic timing while preserving the characters that never descend into cheap, unjustified laughs. David Andrew MacDonald and Zoey Martinson as Doctor Mike and wife Kate have a field day with emotions in the show’s beautifully dense second act. The final image of “Good People” is chilling, pointing toward an optimism that is rarely fulfilled.

Co-produced with Syracuse Stage, “Good People” has director Laura Kepley guiding the cast with the same flair we saw in last year’s “The Vibrator Play.” Generously peppered with cursing, nothing said in “Good People” is offensive because the language emerges so cleanly from the characters. To see “Good People” is to see regional theater at its best – a melding of script, cast and production. “Good People” runs through April 14 at the Allen Theatre at PlayhouseSquare.

 

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