How much of our lives is left to chance and how do we win? These questions are explored in the Tony-Award winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire, Good People now showing at the Hippodrome Theatre.
There are the wonderful Christmas classics, the Summer musicals, and the Commercial hits that put the Arts funding in the HIPP coffers to give us the shows serious lovers of theatre pine for. This is the show. We enjoy spectacle, yes, and entertainments for the moment, but here is the core of theatrical story-telling, the crux of culture which invites us not only to be entertained but to think beyond the play and apply lessons-learned to our daily lives. For those who might not know; without culture, mankind could not have found ways to exist on the earth in inhospitable places, could not have developed the technologies that connect the people of the world together. In short, without culture, we simply do not survive. This is the importance of story-telling. This is the importance of theatre. The fact that theatre is entertaining and provocative is our bonus, a 'free spot' on the board if you will. And so without giving away the many pleasures of Good People, there are a few things I can assure you of: 1.) The cast of a lifetime. 2.) The most sublime yet profoundly diabolical direction of Direction Lauren Caldwell. 3.) A story that will make you think the next time you pass a stranger down on his or her luck on the street. 4.) The gift of knowing you are lucky to be on the face of the Earth. Not a bad trade for a theatre ticket or two.
For those who have been long-time supporters of theatre at the Hipp, you know it is always a joy to see the likes of Nell Page, Sara Morsey, and the irrepressible Matthew Lindsay on the stage, especially all in one production. That alone is an epochal happening. Round out the cast with Kevin Rainsberger and Felecia Harrelson as an interracial couple with no vouchsafe pandering of racial rhetoric to the audience, and you have something akin to the perfect storm. Here is a cast that cannot be outshone, and yet, somehow, that is exactly what Christine McMurdo-Wallis manages to do in her thoroughly realistic tough-guts portrayal of Dottie. Morsey as Margaret is the star, no doubt, and her character arc evolves in a resounding and meaningful way. But Dottie is the heart of this play, beating solidly throughout; the heart knows what it is and does what it does. It plays cosmic BINGO. I know this woman and so do you. McMurdo-Wallis is so realistic in her portrayal of Dottie that she makes method acting look positively 19th Century.
In a scene just before intermission, these Hippodrome stalwarts [Lindsay, Page, Morsey, and McMurdo-Wallis] put on a fireworks show of theatricality in the most unlikely of scenarios; a BINGO hall mostly filled with old ladies and Matthew Lindsay (as Steve, a wish-washy Dollar Store manager who fires the beleaguered Margaret for repeated tardiness at the top of the show and yet still remains friends with her.) Not to get esoteric, but thoughts of Pacino-meets-DeNiro in Heat or the super-star cast of Scorsese's The Departed sprang to mind --the intensity, the excitement of seeing fine actors in ensemble. To see these actors on stage turn a dreary BINGO game into something like a meteor shower is one of the greatest treats to be seen on any stage in Gainesville in the past decade.
Then for Act II, almost a different play: Believing she has been singled out as a pest and thus uninvited to a party in which Margaret had hoped to network-out a new job, she crashes it anyway. As it happens, the party had truly been cancelled and Margaret finds herself in the company of the two hosts: a former boyfriend with whom she had a brief tryst, and his relatively new black wife. The secrets revealed in this scene shall remain so in this review, but seats will be squirmed in, gasps will be heard, some of it will be hysterical and some will be heartbreaking. And it is in this scene that Morsey claims the light. The treasure that is Sara Morsey goes super-nova.
Director Lauren Caldwell does something remarkable in her direction. She is restrained, yet more 'Caldwellian' than ever. We see her signatures between scenes when the actors themselves, in half light, adjust their surroundings from one location to the next, we see the ingenious staging forcing points of focus that don't feel forced (magic), the occasional nods to Looney Tunes cartoons, but in this production it is if one can feel Caldwell's breath--the space between notes. We feel the weight of the words because our Director allows that space to live--entire passages go by with two or three people, seated, talking--no need for complex-blocking that can make us aware we are observing a play. And take amazement in Caldwell's crafted stage pictures...these are Good People living their lives, sharing their hopes, wondering when their numbers will come up.
The lighting, set, sound, and costumes (Robert P. Robbins, MiHai Ciupe, Amanda Yanes, Marilyn A. Wall) are all top-notch. The fresh energy of the Hippodrome under the new Producing Director Thomas Anderson is palpable and alive! Gainesville has something very special in the Hippodrome Theatre and this play will be one of its hallmarks. If you do not see this play, Good People, you will simply be doing a disservice to mankind.