Critic's PickFrom the get-go in David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People you know things are going off the tracks for Margie. It’s apparent that her young boss is about to fire her, but she doesn’t see it coming. As Margie, Annie Fitzpatrick steps a long way from refined characters she’s previously played at Ensemble Theatre (where this show is onstage) and elsewhere to play a tough-talking working woman from downtrodden South Boston (“Southie”). Fitzpatrick, who has excelled as women with troubled psyches, is wholly different here — brash and uncomplicated but clearly desperate and vulnerable.
We see her with two cronies, her longtime, foul-mouthed friend Jean (Kate Wilford) and her self-centered landlady Dottie (Deb G. Girdler), in rounds of trashy gossip and argument in Southie patois, set in Margie’s cramped kitchen and in a bingo hall.
Their scenes are pricelessly comic, ensemble acting that builds context for Margie’s daily grind of laughter, tears and fears.
Desperate for work, Margie pushes beyond her comfort zone, barging into the office of a long-ago Southie boyfriend, Mike (Chris Clavelli), now a successful reproductive endocrinologist — a category of physician Margie has never heard of (nor can even pronounce). She hopes he might have some employment for her. Her inexperience and his desire to avoid his past means he won’t help. Soon they’re sniping around their class differences. She’s jealous of what he has, and he’s uncomfortable because he’s built a life premised on denial. Their mutual antagonism leads to a daredevil invitation to a party at his chic but bland home in a posh Boston neighborhood, a circuitous course to the play’s second act where their paths clash, entangle and burn. Lindsay-Abaire’s naturalistic tale resolves in a modestly hopeful way that’s nevertheless imbued with sadness.
Margie’s life isn’t likely to change, but her spirit is not crushed. Fitzpatrick makes her real and admirable, even while amply demonstrating her flaws. The interplay between characters in Good People is full of believable truth, and ETC director D. Lynn Meyers excels in staging such material. Designer Brian c. Mehring’s flexible, fluid set is spot on, and costumer Reba Senske has dressed these “good people” in clothes that bespeak who they are. It’s a total package that feels good and real from start to finish.
GOOD PEOPLE, presented by Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, continues through Sept. 23.