It’s a long way from the Kingdom of Duloc to Boston’s Southside, as the Arts Club Theatre Company presents David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People.
The writer of Shrek The Musical, Lindsay-Abaire moves away from the fairytale swamp to the blue collar Southie neighbourhood of Beantown in his examination of economics and class. But while Good People uses plenty of laughs, offers a couple of surprises, and benefits from a terrific performance from Colleen Wheeler in its central role, the stakes are so low that it is ultimately forgettable.
In Good People, Margie (Wheeler) has just lost her Dollar Store job for being late yet again, and without an income she is not sure how she is going to pay the rent. Margie’s circumstances aren’t quite as dire as one might think though, as her landlady Dottie is also a good friend. Dottie not only looks after Margie’s mentally challenged daughter, but joins Margie and her bestfriend Jeanne for Bingo at the local church hall on a regular basis. It is pretty hard to believe that Dottie is going throw Margie and her daughter out-on-the-street.
The stakes do get amped up somewhat though when Margie reconnects with Mike, an old flame from high school. Seems Mike has pulled up his bootstraps and made something of himself by becoming a doctor. Gladly leaving behind the old neighbourhood for the richer side of the railroad tracks, Mike is ambushed in both his office and home by Margie. Initially hoping that Mike could help with her search for a job, Margie’s desperation soon devolves into playwright Lindsay-Abaire’s biggest surprise of the night (no spoilers here). But as Margie starts to reveal hidden bits of Mike’s past life as a Southie, and lays a huge revelation on Mike and his wife, one has to wonder how Margie doesn’t get thrown out well before that secret is revealed.
Wheeler does some great work here though, with a nice mix of the hard-ass single working mother who has obviously had a tough life, and a devastating vulnerability. When Wheeler briefly breaks down behind Margie’s tough façade, it is heartbreaking. As usual, Wheeler’s comedic timing is near perfect.
As Dottie, Patti Allan is imperfectly coiffed as the eccentric landlady from upstairs. Her dime-store crafts are a perfect match to her dime-store attire from costume designer Carmen Alatorre. As best-friend Jeanne, Jenn Griffin is perfectly suited for the role of Greek-chorus-of-one, and Ben Elliott handles the role of the socially awkward Stevie with an appropriate nervousness. Scott Bellis manages the passive-agressiveness of Mike with skill, and is a nice contrast to Sereana Malani as wife Kate who exudes confidence.
Lauchlin Johnston’s moveable set pieces effortlessly glide across the Stanley Theatre stage helping to keep the action moving, although angles from the left side of the house made watching scenes in Margie’s apartment a little difficult.
Despite a solid production, and Good People‘s worthwhile reminder that riches don’t always come from having money, in knowing that Margie’s fate is never really in jeopardy means it has little staying power beyond the final curtain.
Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed by Rachel Ditor. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. On stage at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage (2750 Granville St, Vancouver) until April 24. Visit http://artsclub.com for tickets and information.