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Theater Review: "Good People" At The Maryland Ensemble Theatre

Joe Williams

This week, theatre critic J. Wynn Rousuck reviews "Good People", a play that takes an honest and sometimes humorous look at the struggles of those living paycheck to paycheck in America. The play runs through June 21 at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre

J. Wynn Rousuck's review:

Sometimes there’s a pivotal moment when your life can turn in a completely different direction. If you grab that moment and it propels you forward, do you look back later with gratitude? With relief? Or do you just forge ahead and forget the past?

David Lindsay-Abaire asks those questions in his 2011 play, “Good People.” It’s receiving a sharply observed, well-performed production, directed by Tad Janes, at Maryland Ensemble Theatre in Frederick.

“Good People” focuses on a middle-aged man and woman who grew up on the tough streets of South Boston and whose lives took opposite directions. Mike made it out and went on to have a prosperous career, a family and a home in the suburbs.

Margaret wasn’t as fortunate. Gené Fouché plays her with a tough veneer, but smarts and a good heart. Margaret became pregnant in high school and dropped out. Now the stressed-out single mother of a grown disabled daughter, she has trouble holding a job.

“Good People” begins with Margaret’s boss, a kid half her age played by Kevin Cole, firing her from her job at a dollar store.

One of Margaret’s friends suggests she visit an old high school beau, Mike, now a successful doctor,  and ask him for a job. Margaret is hesitant, but she admits, “He was always good people.” So, about 30 years too late, Margaret shows up at Dr. Michael Dillon’s office. It’s indicative of how far apart their lives have grown that Margaret is uncomfortable in what she sees as Mike’s posh workplace.

It’s a scene full of mind games, and director Janes’ pacing makes the give-and-take bristle. At the end of this scene, Margaret finds the gumption to get herself invited to a party at Mike’s home. When the party’s canceled, she goes anyway, convinced Mike was just trying to keep her away.

That’s where the play and Maryland Ensemble’s insightful production really takes off. Actor DC Cathro wisely lets Mike’s true nature build. The doctor’s professional tone begins to sound a little superior, then a little condescending, and finally, his real character emerges.

Rona Mensah delivers a moving portrayal of his wife – a wise woman with a strong instinct for self-preservation. But actress Gené Fouché’s gutsy, beleaguered, fair-minded Margaret is the heart of “Good People.”

Playwright Lindsay-Abaire grew up in South Boston, a “Southie,” and he captures the patois of his boyhood neighborhood. He also contends that it takes more than brains or bucks to escape from straitened circumstances and become a success. It also takes luck and good fortune. Being “good people,” however, takes more. It takes strength of character, moral fiber and acceptance of and even pride in your roots, however humble.

A deeper, more far-reaching drama than Lindsay-Abaire’s better known, 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner, “Rabbit Hole,” “Good People” examines modern morality, politics and social class. It’s a character-based drama that puts American values to a serious test. In short, “Good People” is good drama, skillfully done at Maryland Ensemble Theatre.

J. Wynn Rousuck has been reviewing theater for WYPR's Midday (and previously, Maryland Morning) since 2007. Prior to that, she was the theater critic of The Baltimore Sun, where she reviewed more than 3,000 plays over the course of 23 years.