by China Young
Winding Road Theatre Ensemble’s production of Good People by David Lindsay Abaire is a beautifully crafted snapshot of the modern American class struggle with its focus on those living on the “economic knife-edge,” as described by director Glen Coffman. That makes it sound like a heavy drama, but Abaire and Winding Road apply plenty of humor and heart to this production.
Good People is the story of Margie, played by Maria Caprile, a working-class woman from the projects of Boston. Margie, like many single mothers, can barely support herself and her daughter, who is grown but suffers from disabilities brought on by being born premature. After getting fired from her low-paying job by her generations-younger manager Stevie (Joshua Parra), Margie is desperate to find something that is sustainable before she gets evicted by her landlady, Dottie (Peg Peterson). Encouraged by her good friend Jean (Toni Press-Coffman), Margie decides to reconnect with an old flame, Mike (Tony Caprile), who has found his way out of the “uncomfortable” slum life into that of “comfortable” stability, complete with an equally successful wife, Kate (Carley Elizabeth Preston).
Margie’s hope is that Mike can find her a job, or at least introduce her to someone else that can, and help her escape the pattern of underpaid labor she knows far too well. While there is much more to the story, I don’t know that I can adequately summarize any more without giving away moments of discovery by both the characters and the audience that truly make this experience worth having, and there are more than a few.
While Abaire has written his female characters well, I am almost convinced that it is Winding Road’s powerful female performers that put those characters in the driver’s seat without letting off the gas. Maria Caprile expertly commands Margie’s “good” but borderline manipulative qualities, filling every beat with truth and vulnerability.
If you aren’t completely drawn in by the first scene between her and Joshua Parra, hold on because Peg Peterson and Toni Press-Coffman join forces with Caprile in the next scene to finish the job. Both of their characters are commanding, believable, and drive the plot forward with such force it is impossible to not be swept away in the action. I couldn’t help but admire the strength and resilience of the blue-collar women that they represented. Not to mention the ease with which Press-Coffman can turn a phrase, and Peterson’s brutal hilarity that punches you, and Margie, in the gut. The truly impressive part is that they do all that from their seats.
Even though we do not meet her until the second act, Carley Elizabeth Preston’s portrayal of Mike’s wife, Kate, is honest, compassionate, and fierce, making the character vital and worth the wait. Though Kate comes from money and education, she states that she is passionately protective of her and Mike’s daughter, drawing a parallel between her and Margie that fuels any nuance of tension that may exist considering Margie and Mike’s past.
All of that said, the men certainly hold their own. Joshua Parra portrays Stevie as someone who has gained success through hard-work and genuine kindness, but still doesn’t back down from a battle. Tony Caprile’s Mike is likeable, smarmy, fun, and incredibly naïve about his privilege, despite having grown up as working class and in the projects like the other characters. Mike and Margie have some of the most palpable exchanges in the whole show, with scenes that swell with subtle texture by both performers. In fact, the evening I was present, one scene in particular seemed to affect the audience tremendously (again, you’ve got to see it to experience it).
Not only does every performer do their job in creating the world of the play, but the production’s use of every inch available to them in The Scoundrel & Scamp’s small black box theatre space is equally impressive. The lighting, however, had a few issues. Most noticeably, there was one dark spot that actors found themselves in over and over. And though I appreciate how lighting can affect the mood of the scene, some transitions were just a little too obvious and left me momentarily distracted.
The only other troublesome aspect of this performance was the accent work. At the beginning of the play there were some incredibly thick Boston accents and it was clear that some performers had a stronger command of it than others. As the show progressed, the accents dissipated and settled into simpler subtleties that I found much more palatable and less distracting. Perhaps it was a choice to go strong at first so that the audience knows exactly where and who our characters are, but it felt as though the show was initially more about the accent than the characters. Fortunately, the characters ultimately took over and I didn’t care whether they had an accent or not.
Good People was a truly rewarding theatrical experience. I often forgot I was watching a play, allowing myself to be swept away by the characters and action, which can be a hard thing to do when you’ve been submerged in theatre since you were six like I was. I was genuinely thrilled to have experienced this production, and I think you will be too.
Good People runs through November 18 with evening performances at 7:30 on November 8th – 10th, 15th – 17th, and 18th (yes, that’s a Sunday evening), and matinee performances at 2:00 on November 11th and 17th (that’s a Sunday and a Saturday, respectively) at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre at the Historic Y. Tickets are available online at windingroadtheater.org or by calling 401-3626.