Good People

Patti Allan, Jenn Griffin and Colleen Wheeler Credit: Emily Cooper
Patti Allan, Jenn Griffin and Colleen Wheeler
Credit: Emily Cooper

At The Stanley until April 24, 2016

Posted March 31, 2016

Like the Nature versus Nurture debate, we often ask whether our lives are determined by choices we do (or do not) make, or are some people just born lucky?

In David Lindsay-Abaire’s play Good People, Margie (hard ‘g’) is in a bad way; she’s a single mom with a “retarded” adult daughter and she has recently been fired from the Dollar Store for repeatedly being late for work. Margie’s no slacker but daughter Joyce requires babysitting and Dottie, the landlady and cheap babysitter, is unreliable.

Former neighbourhood kid Mikey, on the other hand, has escaped their shared tough, working-class background in South Boston (“Southey”), to become a doctor with a fancy home and a beautiful, young “black” wife and daughter. He has become, in Margie’s words, “lace-curtain”, that is, socially pretentious.

Did Mike simply make good choices while Margie made poor choices? Or did Mike get lucky?

If this doesn’t sound like the stuff of comedy, prepare to laugh. This skilled cast, directed by Rachel Ditor for the Arts Club, finds all the biting humour in Good People without burying the serious issues of the play under easy laughter. It is, after all, about what constitutes ‘good people’. Which of the play’s characters escapes a disadvantaged past by making ‘good’ (as in ‘self-serving, clever’) choices as opposed to those who make ‘good’ (as in ‘charitable, compassionate’) choices?

Colleen Wheeler and Scott Bellis Credit: Emily Cooper
Colleen Wheeler and Scott Bellis
Credit: Emily Cooper

Lauchlin Johnston’s set takes us from an alleyway outside the Dollar Store, Margie’s kitchen, the bingo parlour and a classy  doctor’s office to a handsome, expensive living room. The set pieces slide quickly and noiselessly; the action of the play is scarcely interrupted

At the heart of Good People is Margie and director Ditor could have found no one better than Colleen Wheeler for the role. She’s physically perfect: tall, rangy, an I-can-take-care-of-myself sort of gal. But behind Wheeler’s strong physical presence is a softness that all the tough talking can’t conceal. The result is perfectly timed comedy. A little pause, a little hesitation, and Wheeler drops a verbal bombshell that has audiences saying, aloud, “Whoa!” Good People has a lot of these moments.

On stage with Wheeler are Patti Allan and Jenn Griffin as Dottie and Jeanne, Margie’s bingo-playing friends. Allan, outrageously rigged out by costume designer Carmen Alatorre in a screwy-looking hat, cheap jewellery and too much lipstick, is sour-puss perfect. And you have to love Griffin’s salt-of-the-earth Jeanne who supports Margie through thick and thin and shows what ‘good people’ Jeanne really is.

Sereana Malani makes her Arts Club debut as Mike’s wife Kate, definitely classier, better educated than the Southey women. Malani does what she can with a rather left-field scene in which she accuses Margie of being a bad mother.

As Mike (or Mikey as Dottie, Jeanne and Margie remember him), Scott Bellis is excellent as the conflicted, back-pedalling character who simply exudes uncertainty, passive-aggressiveness and unpleasant wimpiness.

Colleen Wheeler and Ben Elliott Credit: Emily Cooper
Colleen Wheeler and Ben Elliott
Credit: Emily Cooper

Ben Elliott brings an endearing boy-next-door goofiness and lanky physicality to Stevie who, at the top of the play has the nasty task of firing his friend Margie. In a surprising twist, Stevie shows all of us what ‘good people’ are really made of.

My old mom (as she caught my teenaged self primping in front of the mirror) used to cluck, “Handsome is as handsome does”. Good People suggests, “Good is as good does”.