A “haunting performance” – Times-Standard

Redwood Curtain’s recent fourth Zoom performance revisiting another of the company’s most notable and popular productions was the 2017 tongue-in-cheek comedy, “Good People.” And, this version was sure to have a lot going on, according to my original review of the series.

But, like Redwood Curtain’s two previous online plays, of One Night Only, this comeback performance would once again be lucky enough to have its entire 2017 cast (and director) intact to reinvent their character approach. vis-à-vis the playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. scenario.

However, before I share my reaction to what they did this time around in such a completely different performance setting, let’s go back to what I said about the show in Urge on November 2, 2017:

“Good People” is an excellent theater at the Redwood Curtain

Without a doubt, ‘Good People’, Redwood Curtain’s final production of its already impressive 2017 season, is not only one of their best, but one of the most notable shows staged in Humboldt County. this year.

Although the company has successfully produced three other unique comedies by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, this script is decidedly different from their usual (unusual) artistic approach.

Instead of being a clever, abstract frame of bizarre circumstances that affect an often symbolic and bizarre cast of characters (which are more to be observed than linked), the ones he created for “Good People” are real beings. humans intended to be taken care of. about.

And we do – though the “right” description in the title inevitably becomes more ironic as the play progresses, as each actor in this incomparable and perfectly performed ensemble draws you in more and more, from start to finish. the end.

Set in the present (the original Tony Award-nominated Broadway show premiered in 2011), we get involved with the personal lives (and issues) of people who live in the Lower End of South Boston (“Southie”) and Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

The plot revolves around the central character of Margaret / Margie (brilliant, poignantly played by Peggy Metzger), a middle-aged single mother being fired from her low-paying job by her boss at the Dollar Store, Stevie (a solid and underrated performance from Matthew Atkins).

He is forced to let her go by her supervisor because she is constantly late for work. And, while this is because her disabled adult daughter’s “babysitter” is never on time and Margie can’t leave until she gets there, it doesn’t matter. importance. She’s fired.

Sadly, this unreliable babysitter is her eccentric and egotistical “friend” and landlady, Dottie (an outrageous Susan Abbey), who, despite the problem, also threatens to evict Margie if she can’t find another job and continue to pay. his rent.

However, this situation does not prevent the two women from playing cards and bingo with another longtime friend of Southie, the pragmatic Jean (a formidable and sarcastic Pamela Long). She and Dottie have no problem expressing their unsolicited opinions on everything in the most salty language.

In fact, after the financially desperate Margie accidentally bumps into Mike (her ex-boyfriend from the neighborhood who has not been seen for 30 years) who is now a successful doctor, they encourage her to come to the hospital. her office and see if he a job for her. Of course, he doesn’t.

Mike (gently played with the hint of an unsettling undercurrent by Craig Benson) is far from eager to reconnect with someone from his old “rough” past after moving into the world, with a top profession. range and rich excavations at Chestnut Hill.

But, he can’t really escape as the plot slowly unfolds after Margie refuses to take no for an answer and continues to chase him for a job. As well as answers to more unexpected personal questions.

It all culminates in a continuous and growing boil when the final character in the mix is ​​introduced – Mike’s beautiful and much younger wife, Kate (played with avant-garde charm by the astonishing Kenya Uhuru). A multi-degree graduate from Georgetown, she appears to be the perfect choice as a symbol of her lifestyle goal out of Southie, mobile upward. No rearview mirror for him now.

The daughter of a prominent and prestigious doctor, Kate’s father was able to give her ambitious husband a boost that helped him become a financially successful doctor with his own practice. (The openly happy couple have a baby daughter whose need for a babysitter leads to an interesting plot involving Margie’s determined job search.)

However, overall, the dynamic that drives any characters we meet are based on their individual needs for personal identity and financial stability – things that are often unattainable, if ever, for some people. It doesn’t matter how “good” they are at what they do or “who” they are.

In fact, this is the fascinating and paradoxical nature of the play. No one is all good or all bad, but somewhere in between. And the “truths” or “lies” they tell are based on their own point of view. It’s also for the audience to think about after a surprise ending you won’t see coming – and what makes “Good People” so intriguing.

Directors Cassandra Hesseltine and Kaitlyn Samuel made sure the cast fully engage you with their wonderfully believable Slice of Life performances (using just enough authentic accents to inhabit their Massachusetts characters).

Robert Pickering’s wonderful and detailed stage design is one of the best ever created for the space (built by Gary Sommers and painted by Ray Gutierrez). Calder Johnson’s lighting design places a visual emphasis on the action, and Cory Stewart’s sound choices enhance the moods in between. Holly Marson skillfully manages light and sound.

The eclectic costumes were designed by Catherine L. Brown with the women individually being fantastic. Dottie’s outfits are particularly whimsical, as are the wacky bunnies created by Greta Turney. Hardworking director Morgan Reeves also serves as a film crew and trainer.

But, for all the technical expertise involved in the success of this production, the artistic result of its exceptional power comes from the unwavering clarity of the playwright’s insight into the private and prickly souls of the “good people” he shares with him. we. . They are truly unforgettable.

*******************

After reading the last paragraph above of my impressions of the original production (after just experiencing the Zoom performance of the same script, by the same actors four years later), I realized how carefully I had ” omit “the obviously offensive, racist, sexist and class-degrading language that the playwright has used throughout.

And while it was certainly unsettling to hear it four years ago, after being exposed to it again in 2021 – for too many reasons to count – I felt like the content had literally slapped me in the face. face.

I was confronted with the fact that the unsettling depth of its ugly truths was so “cleverly disguised” as “tongue-in-cheek remarks” shared between the characters, that the “shock value” they “deserved” was lost the first time around. .

However, in the constant, personal world, nowhere to hide Zoom’s performance, it’s there (as Hamlet once so ironically pointed out), “the part is the thing.”

Thus, both the words of the script and the actors themselves who deliver them cannot escape what is being said.

In any case, what this format did for the end result of this revisited production, was to lay it bare – until what still bubbled beneath the ornate surface (added by the set design, lights, costumes and physical movement).

Unresolved and unacknowledged relationships and circumstances that were painful, raw, thoughtless, petty, and hopeless, but which could still turn out to be reluctantly loving, hopeful, and unexpectedly kind. At least by one of the “right people”.

However, the fact that Mike turned out to be the teenage father of Margie’s disabled daughter was the “uncomfortable secret” she had kept from him and which was ultimately revealed during her fateful “visit” to his house for a party that never happened.

So, the main thing for the play itself is “choices” – those which were made or not by those who could and could not make them. The results ranged from uncomfortable for some to devastating for others. (Depending on how they “decided” to deal with the consequences of their decisions.)

Matthew Atkins plays Stevie and Peggy Metzger is Margaret / Margie in “Good People” by Redwood Curtain. (Evan Wisheropp Photography)

All of the cast – as they returned to their original roles in this unique performance format – were fascinating to watch again as they slowly, but surely re-entered the characters they had so skillfully portrayed on the stage of Redwood Curtain four long years ago – although Metzger, in particular, seemed “right at home” from the start. And her Margie was even more amazing to see because she made you guess why she did what she did or didn’t do.

As Stevie, Matthew Atkins also found deeper layers in his role that grabbed you right away. And, Pamela Long’s sarcastic Jean and Dottie with no clue of the cruelty of Susan Abbey once again had the thankless task of delivering some of the more squeaky languages ​​- it was obviously more “difficult” for them in the potential powder keg of today regarding such things.

Craig Benson’s Mike came across as an even more despicable person (thanks to Benson’s willingness to “allow” his character to “go out there”), and Kenya Uhuru – like Mike’s beautiful, black upper crust. , openly “under control,” but gradually his wife is unraveling – brings to her role a wider range of nuances that go beyond what she previously did.

It’s not an easy piece to take on, whether on stage or on Zoom. And the fact that director Hesseltine and her talented cast had the artistic courage to remake it in a new and frankly frightening technical format was far from being a “given” of their success.

But despite some technical glitches fortunately at the start of the series, they not only overcame the unforeseen challenges that lay ahead, but collectively they “leaned” artistically into defining their characters as believable human beings. Warts and all. It was a haunting performance.

And, more so, because there really are no “completely good people” to represent. In fact, the playwright seems to take pleasure in teasing audiences with this changing situation. And the next line of the script, paradoxically says, “It’s not what I said, but what you heard.” And that, as an audience, is what he leaves you.

However, I can’t wait to see what another intriguing and revisited show in their archives Redwood Curtain will take next. Of course, I’d rather see a new piece live on stage in their intimate venue, but until that can happen I know what they’ll pick for their next Zoom presentation will be something I don’t want to miss. to see again !

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About Selena J. Killeen

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