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Theatre Review: Good People at the Ensemble Theatre

Good? Great!

Good People

By David Lindsay-Abaire

Director Mark Kilmurry

Photos by Clare Hawley

Ensemble Theatre until May 21

Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP

Have you ever forgotten how good somebody is?

I was reminded of an outstanding talent at the Ensemble Theatre in Kirribilli.

Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire tells the story of the life of the tough but kind Margaret Walsh, a single mother who has been stuck in a rough Boston neighbourhood all her life. She has been repeatedly sacked from jobs because of lateness, which is partly due to the unreliability of her support network.

Following her latest retrenchment, in her desperation to find work, Margaret approaches Mike, a former high school boyfriend, now a well-established doctor who has managed to escape from the neighbourhood and lives in a more upmarket (“lace curtains”) part of the city.

Margaret manages to wangle an invitation to a birthday party at the house of Mike and his wife, Kate, an elegant, attractive and younger African American woman. It becomes a bit like The Beverly Hillbillies or Here Come The Habibs!, with Margaret acknowledging that she’s out of her depth when it comes to identifying the myriad of cheeses that Kate offers her. Then it hits the fan when Margaret decides to expose some aspects of Mike’s past.

Some reality is provided by Stevie (Drew Livingston) and comic relief is in the form of Dottie (Gael Ballantyne) and Jean (Jane Phelan), the support network. All do well and the latter two are sometimes overplayed, giving a nice balance. Zindzi Okenyo has been perfectly cast as Kate, as was Christopher Stollery in the role of Mike. In fact, my doctor companion on opening night remarked that she knows doctors who are exactly like Mike, so credible is Stollery’s performance.

In the first act the plot takes a while to establish itself, and after the intermission, this production hits the ground running. The scene in Mike and Kate’s house is about as good as anything I’ve seen at the Ensemble. The interaction and plot twists with Margaret in the middle of the vortex is compelling.

It’s a favourable sign when you’re watching a play, you’re not appreciating the acting because you’re so caught up in the story, and at the end, you can’t imagine another actor playing the role, so perfect is the performance. Tara Morice, who is best known for her leading role as Fran in the film, Strictly Ballroom, is faultless, engaging and compelling. Margaret is at the same time, desperate, highly manipulative and vulnerable, and Morice, whom I haven’t seen in a play since the 1980s, is absolutely brilliant.

Sure, the play has been nominated for numerous awards and has won a Tony Award for Best Actress and a New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play, but it’s the interpretation that counts. In the Ensemble’s production, under the direction of Mark Kilmurry, Tara Morice’s performance is superlative, especially at the beginning of the second act and that alone is worth the price of admission.

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