Saturday, March 28, 2015

"Chalk Circle" an Exercise in Theory

'The Caucasian Chalk Circle" -- Yale Repertory Theatre -- Thru April 11

                                         The cast of 'Caucasian Chalk Circle.' 
                                        All photos by Carol Rosegg

By Geary Danihy

Bertolt Brecht’s “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” is as much an exercise in dramatic theory as it is a drama – or a parable. As currently staged by the Yale Repertory Theatre under the direction of Liz Diamond, it has its moments, but as you sit and watch the events unfold you can’t help but feel you are auditing some graduate seminar. You are an observer, and that was Brecht’s intention, for in his theory of “epic theatre,” the audience was to be kept at a distance, essentially alienated, never allowed to develop empathy for the characters. No entering into the world of the play here, no attempt at creating the illusion of reality. If that’s your cup of tea, then the Rep’s production -- stylish, visually arresting and well-acted -- is just for you. However, if you are seeking to be moved, to be emotionally swept away after almost three hours of theater, well…

                                                    Shaunette Renee Wilson

That being said, the lead actress, Shaunette Renee Wilson (a second-year MFA candidate at Yale School of Drama), playing the role of Grusha, a peasant girl, often makes you forget theory, for she draws you in and makes you care about her character’s plight. Doing so, she stands apart from many of the other actors who, more often than not, seem to be pontificating or posing, conforming to Brecht’s theory of acting, which he called “gestus” – (he was at odds with Konstantin Stanislavsky’s “system” that, among other things, demanded that actors “experience the part” while acting). Brecht called for his actors to embody an attitude in order to reveal social relations and motivations for behavior, all wrapped up in an historical materialist perspective.

                                                     Steven Skybell

The play’s plot, developed in a series of sketches (Brecht believed that each element of a play should be treated independently) is set in the fictional country of Grusnia, where there is a gathering storm of political upheaval. The scene is set by “The Singer” (Steven Skybell, who also plays Azdak) – an omniscient narrator who not only comments on the play’s actions but enters the minds of some of its characters and speaks their thoughts in voice and song (to a haunting score by David Lang). Brecht’s concerns are with politics, the nature of power, and the ability of human nature to both sink to depths of depravity and rise to moments of compassion and tenderness. Hence, in the troubled land of Grusnia there is soon a coup d’etat, The Governor (Max Gordon Moore) is deposed and beheaded and his wife, Natella (Brenda Meaney) escapes, leaving her baby, Michael, behind. It is this babe that Grusha comes upon and, against her better judgment, decides to protect. Her decision, which wars against her love for Simon (Jonathan Majors), a soldier, sets in motion a series of events that include a perilous trek, a forced marriage and a trial with Solomonic overtones.

                                                        Jonathan Majors

Brecht obviously had things to say when writing his play, and the saying of them makes the evening a bit didactic. Whether it’s the nature of oppression, the arbitrariness of those in power, or the compassionate nature of the good, honest folk (or the venality of said “good, honest folks”), the play wears its ideas on its somewhat Marxist sleeve. Thus, going back to the grad seminar idea, you might often feel while viewing the play that you are being taught rather than entertained. Again, if that’s your cup of tea…

However, no fault can be found in the staging of “The Caucasian Chalk Garden.” Scenic designer Chika Shimizu’s sets are disturbing and fraught with images of disruption and psychological terror, matched by Stephen Strawbridge’s riveting lighting design and the often shattering impact of Matt Tierney’s sound design. Visually, “Chalk Circle” is stunning. Music, lighting and set all work to convey the idea that titanic events are occurring – would that the script conveyed the same idea. Rather, what we have is, by and large, a polemic, with the characters often delivering the playwright’s ideas. Observing what is going on up on the stage, one is less compelled to sit back and be engrossed than to take notes.


“The Caucasian Chalk Circle” runs through April 11. For tickets or more information call 203-432-1234 or go to www.yalerep.org

"Assassin" Delivers a Stinging Hit

'Playing the Assassin" -- TheaterWorks -- Thru April 26

                                      Garrett Lee Hendricks and Ezra Knight.
                                      All photos by Lanny Nagler


By Geary Danihy

Baseball may be “America’s game,” but there’s no denying that it’s football – especially the National Football League’s version – that stirs the male loins and drives fans year after year to stadiums, sports bars and in-house parties to watch large, well-conditioned men beat the crap out of each other while scoring touchdowns. The organized mayhem has been compared to that of the Roman games in the Circus Maximus, and for good reason, for although there are no rampaging lions and tigers and gladiators aren’t skewered, the NFL offers its fans a controlled violence that satisfies very basic urges…but, at what cost to the players?

That’s the premise of “Playing the Assassin,” an immensely powerful, moving drama by David Robson that recently opened at TheaterWorks in Hartford. Directed by Joe Brancato, this look into the life of an ex-NFL star, dubbed “The Assassin” for his vicious hits and brutal style of play, is theater at its very best.

                                     Ezra Knight and Garrett Lee Hendricks 

As noted in the program, Robson got the idea for the play after reading the obituary of NFL safety Jack Tatum, a hard-hitting player for the Oakland Raiders who, during a pre-season game, laid a devastating hit on New England Patriots’ wide receiver Daryl Stingley, permanently paralyzing him. It was the obituary’s headline – “Jack Tatum, Whose Tackle Paralyzed Player, Dies at 61” – that struck Robson. Here was a man, Jack Tatum, who had had an illustrious career in the NFL, but in death, as in life, he was forever shadowed and burdened by that one play.

And so we have Frank (Ezra Knight), “The Assassin,” now suffering from numerous ills, ailments and aches and pains years after he retired from the game, down on his luck, being offered the opportunity by CBS to appear on a Super Bowl pre-game show along with the man he hit and paralyzed. The offer is being made by a young man named Lewis (Garrett Lee Hendricks), who produces interview spots for the network’s sports shows. Contract in hand, Lewis enters Frank’s hotel room (meticulously created by set designer Brian Prather) for a pre-show background interview. What follows is not only a series of emotionally jolting revelations but a dissection of the game of football, its inherent violence and hypocrisy, the toll it takes on the men who subscribe to the ethics and cult of the gridiron hero, and the indistinct line between aggressive play and gladiatorial violence.

Enough can’t be said of Knight’s performance as the over-the-hill “Assassin.” Initially he gives us a man secure in his image and sense of self, but as the play progresses he is forced to confront the macho image he has lived by, an image he was forced to create if he was going to survive and thrive in the game. It’s an eye-opening, hold-your-breath performance complete with subtle gestures and overt aggression. There was probably no one in the audience on opening night who didn’t believe they were watching and hearing a man who had played the game and was now being forced to confront the toll it had taken on his life and his humanity.

                                                Garrett Lee Hendricks

The catalyst for this self-analysis is Lewis, who is not whom he claims to be. To explain further would lead into spoiler territory. Suffice it to say that Lewis has more on his mind than a simple pre-game interview, and the stakes are much higher than getting Frank to sign the contract. Henrdricks more than holds his own on a stage that can’t help but be dominated by Frank’s character. Initially reserved and business-like, as the true nature of his character is revealed Hendricks grows stronger and stronger.

The play’s underlying theme is the violence that lurks beneath the veneer of civilized man, and the suggestion that we are all capable of striking out if driven by creed, credo, lust or thirst for revenge. Thus, Frank and Lewis are first seen in business suits, the garb that hides the caveman beneath, but by the end of the play jackets have been tossed aside, ties are askew, shirts are unbuttoned and hang loose. We are into primal confrontation, the animal fighting for its psychic survival. To say that the play’s final minutes are riveting would be an understatement – the silence and rapt attention of the audience was palpable.

If there is one false note in this production it is the decision by lighting director Ed McCarthy (if it was, in fact, his decision) to highlight with blood-red lighting two scenes that illustrate the play’s main theme of latent violence. It’s gilding the lily and calls attention to itself. Supportable, perhaps, with its first usage (which involves slow-motion movement), its second appearance lessens rather than heightens the brutal confrontation that is occurring, placing the action in an “otherworld” when, in fact, it should be an in-your-face moment – stark, real and harsh. The lighting decision suggests that at this moment the creative team didn’t trust the audience would “get the point.” Oh ye of little faith in your audience.

Lighting missteps aside, “Playing the Assassin” is theater that satisfies on multiple levels. It’s visceral, intelligent and superbly acted. One can’t ask for much more than that.


“Playing the Assassin” runs through April 26. For tickets or more information call 860-527-7838 or go to www.theaterworkshartford.org 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Snippets of a Life

"Stand By Your Man" -- The Ivoryton Playhouse -- Through April 5

                         Ben Hope and Katie Barton. Photo by Jacqui Hubbard

By Geary Danihy

The Ivoryton Playhouse has gone more than a little bit country with its first production of the 2015 season, “Stand By Your Man: The Tammy Wynette Story,” directed by Sherry Lutken, with a book by Mark St. Germain. Whether it’s truly a “story” remains to be seen, but it certainly showcases the songs Wynette made famous. The problem here is, if you’re not into the twang and semi-wail of country music (and the often maudlin lyrics), you may have a problem warming up to this production. That, however, would not be the fault of the cast, which is, by and large, top drawer. However, two hours of hearing songs about unrequited love, heartbreak and good girls going bad (many of which, to the untutored ear, might sound like the same song sung in different keys) might be something of a challenge for those who don’t drive pick-up trucks with a rifle rack in the back window.

Wynette, played by the engaging Katie Barton, came from humble beginnings, as is evidenced by the opening scene when she, as a young girl (the pert and multi-talented Lilly Tobin) is seen picking cotton. She is seen not only by the audience, but by Wynette herself, who has just passed away, with her mother, MeeMaw (the solid Marcy McGuigan) acting as Wynette’s guide as the singer eases into the afterlife. That’s the familiar frame for the show, a trip down memory lane taken by the recently deceased as she views the triumphs, failures and mistakes that constituted a life that, among other things, included five marriages and abuse of prescription drugs.

There’s also a touch of “A Star is Born” in the script, for the young Wynette soon hooks up with George Jones (Ben Hope – Barton’s husband in real life), a top country and western star with a drinking problem who earned the sobriquet “No-Show Jones” for his proclivity for missing shows as he pursued the genie in the bottle. As Wynette’s star rises, Jones slides into alcoholic despair. It should be a story that the audience cares about, but the script really doesn’t allow for much development – the couple’s relationship is handled in a series of sketches that don’t allow for much emotional investment.

Part of the reason for this emotional surface skating is that the show offers 28 musical numbers (albeit some of them truncated) – that’s a lot of music to cram into two hours. Although some of the songs do carry forward the plot, such as it is, many of them merely seem to be inserts – this is what Tammy sang at this point in her life, including the rather strange diversion into MTV-land with a quasi hip-hop number, “Justified and Ancient,” which is about as engaging as watching the Teletubbies on LSD.

It says a lot about the relative flat-line nature of the production that MeeMaw’s “God’s Gonna Get Me For That,” sung late in the second act in response to some mud slung by Hillary Clinton in Tammy’s direction, is the one number that truly brings the house to life. It’s sprightly and engaging, and McGuigan does a turn on the drums that simply ignites the audience.

Fewer songs and more character development would have served to bring to life a story that, although familiar (sex, multiple marriages and drugs lead to the downfall of a superstar) could still be engaging. As it is, Barton works with what she is given, on a set, designed by Daniel Nischan, that allows for movement stage left and right, with an occasional climb up stairs, stage-center, stairs that split the on-stage band. Given the set, many scenes have Barton ping-ponging left and right: I say this here, then I say that there. As with the songs so with the blocking – both become somewhat repetitive.

There are moments, however, when you sense what this musical play – revue?? – might have been, and that’s all to the credit of Barton, McGuigan, Tobin and Hope, who labor hard to infuse humanity and a sense of love, loss and inevitable change into a book that, as it is currently being presented, seems to be a pastiche of clich├ęs. Barton makes you care, even when you don’t want to, and Hope gives his character a tragic edge – a man who can only handle fame and fortune by running away into the solace of alcohol. Tobin – as the young Tammy, the hair stylist Dolly Pardon, and one of Tammy’s daughters – often lights up the stage, and McGuigan nails line after biting line – so much so that you want to see more of her. When she exits (which is often) you can almost feel a palpable loss of energy, as if a plug has been pulled and the show is now working off lower wattage.

The mother-daughter conflict is the emotional heart of the show, but it is not allowed to beat as it should (as it does, say, in “Gypsy”). In the end, what that means is the show lacks focus, and because of that the audience doesn’t know what it is supposed to feel and how it is supposed to respond, although at the matinee I attended the packed house did respond vociferously at the curtain.

The show’s final coup de theatre suggests what might have been, but the image, as striking as it is, is not supported by the preceding two hours. What, in fact, is Tammy’s triumph, and do we care that the mother has finally acknowledged that her daughter is, in fact, not Virginia Wynette Pugh, but Tammy Wynette? We could have, but alas…


“Stand By Your Man” runs through April 5. For tickets or more information call 860-767-7318 or go to www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

Friday, March 20, 2015

A “Sneak Peek” at Playhouse’s 2015 Season

By Geary Danihy

The Westport Country Playhouse held a sneak preview of its upcoming season on Thursday, March 19, at the Playhouse. The venue’s current tag line is: “Theater Worth Talking About,” and that is what Mark Lamos, the Playhouse’s artistic director, and several guests did: they talked about aspects of the upcoming season, starting a conversation that will hopefully last until Arthur Miller’s “Broken Glass” closes on October 24, and perhaps even longer.

                                                        Mark Lamos

Lamos began the proceedings by commenting that the upcoming season “is all about family,” for each of the plays, in one way or another (if one broadens the definition of “family”), is about the conflicts and controversies, joys and sorrows, that vitalize and vitiate family life. However, Lamos’s use of the word extended beyond the plays chosen, for many of the actors and creative team members who will be involved in the upcoming productions have worked at the Playhouse before, and many of the playwrights have previously been featured on this venerable stage.

For Lamos, the concept of “family” extends beyond those involved in the productions to embrace the audience, for it is for the people sitting in the theater that all of this effort will be put forth and from whom the rewards and satisfaction will be garnered. From playwrights to actors to directors to creative team members to audience, it is a community eager (perhaps, at times, given our growing isolation, even desperate) to communicate on a human, visceral level.

                                                Penny Metropulos

Opening the 2015 season will be David Ives’ “The Liar,” an updated version of Pierre Corneille’s 1644 farce. Directing will be Penny Metropulos, who spoke to the audience via a taped video. The play is about – as might be expected from the title – an inveterate liar, a man named Dorante who not only disdains the truth, he laughs at it. Metropulos described what Ives has called his “tranleftation” of the play as “rich, crazy and wonderful,” adding that in her opinion it is “one of the funniest, brightest of contemporary comedies,” one that Ives has chosen to write, in the spirit of the original, in rhyming verse. Sensing that this detail might be somewhat off-putting, Metropulos added that the verse is “completely accessible.” Apparently, although Dorante is a prevaricator of the first order, his skill is such that, as Metropulos explained, “in the end we are completely mesmerized” by the high-wire act that Dorante engages in. The fun is seeing if this scamp can pull it all off. In the end, however, as Metropulos noted, quoting Ives, the play “seems to be made out of nothing but ends up being about so much.”

                                                         A. R. Gurney

Jumping forward to the Playhouse’s third scheduled production, the world premiere of A. R. Gurney’s “Love and Money,” Lamos introduced the playwright, with whom both Lamos and the Playhouse have a longstanding and warm relationship. Before commenting on his new play, Gurney took a moment to compliment the Playhouse, suggesting that here was an “unusual situation: a town outside of New York with a theater of this magnitude.” Gurney segued from the compliment to pick up on the theme Lamos had introduced, saying that the “theater was the last artistic place where a community can get together…the last way a community can be created” embracing both the stage and the audience. With that, Gurney ceded the stage to Maureen Anderman, who will star in the Playhouse’s production of Gurney’s play.

                                                 Maureen Anderman

Anderman described the upcoming play as “complex,” a “play about,” well, “love and money.” She will play the role of Cornelia Cunningham, a woman “of indeterminate age,” as the actress described her, who has come to the point in her life when she must decide what she will do with the wealth she has been surrounded by. “She is a woman of many colors,” Anderman said, a “wealthy WASP” who “describes things beautifully and completely.” What she is now facing, the actress added, is “the desire to expiate for the crime of having too much money.”

The play is being produced as a co-production with New York’s Signature Theatre, and it was there on the past Monday that the play had a reading, with Anderman playing Cunningham and Gurney in attendance. “I thought it was terrible,” Gurney said, referring not to Anderman’s portrayal but to the play itself. As Gurney explained, it’s one thing to write the words down on a page (or up on a screen) but quite another to hear them spoken, to get the feel of the play as it is brought to life. Though he wasn’t happy with what he had created, he said the disenchantment had motivated him, for he now knew where the laughs and “feelings” were, and where they were not. “I knew I had a hell of a lot to do,” he said, adding, “Plays are not written, they are rewritten,” and that is what he is doing right now. “Love and Money” will run from July 21 through August 8 before going on to the Signature Theatre.

Moving back to the Playhouse’s second scheduled production, C. P. Taylor’s “And a Nightingale Sang,” which will open on June 9 and run through June 27, Lamos introduced David Kennedy, WCP’s associate artistic director, who also spoke to the audience via a taped video. Kennedy, who will direct, described the play, which spans the time frame of World War II, as “warm, funny and poignant.” Set in Newcastle in northern England, it focuses on how a family copes on the home front while the country is at war.

“It’s a series of domestic scenes,” Kennedy said, “showing how the family deals with rationing, air raids – and a burgeoning love affair.” With regard to the love affair, Kennedy said that it is “kind of an ugly duckling story,” for one of the main characters is Helen, the family’s much put upon daughter who, in her early 30s, believes she is plain and unlovable. A soldier on leave suggests otherwise and Helen begins to blossom. As Kennedy commented, this is slice-of-life theater, for it “observes life as it is actually lived,” offering the audience “the full spectrum of the human experience.”

                                                        John Tillinger

Moving on to the Playhouse’s fourth production, Alan Ayckbourn’s “Bedroom Farce,” which opens August 25, Lamos introduced John Tillinger, who will direct. Lamos asked Tillinger to comment on the play. Tillinger straightened up in his chair and said, “Well, I haven’t read this play,” a feigned insouciance that captured the play’s farcical nature…and Tillinger’s whimsical and witty personality. Admitting that he had, in fact, read the play (adding that he had seen part of a performance but his date for the evening had thrown up during the first act so he had had to leave), Tillinger said that the production’s “operative word is farce,” but added that even though the play is set in three bedrooms, “There’s absolutely no nudity, I’m afraid.”

Chronicling the antics of four couples in three bedrooms over the course of one Saturday, the play is quintessential Ayckbourn, with the pain of human foibles and failures the touch point for much of the humor – with the audience getting to wallow in schadenfreude. “It gets to the truth about how people behave when their backs are to the wall,” Tillinger said.

The evening ended with a discussion of Miller’s “Broken Glass,” one of the playwright’s later plays (1994). Lamos described the play as both “powerful” and “dense,” constructed as a mystery. Set in Brooklyn in the time leading up to World War II, it focuses on Sylvia Gellberg, the wife of, as Lamos described him, a “self-hating Jew.” Reading in the newspapers about the horrors of Kristallnacht (hence the play’s title) in Germany, Sylvia suddenly becomes paralyzed. A doctor is brought in to determine the cause of the paralysis and his investigation opens up dark closets containing “guilt, intolerance and personal tragedy.”

                                                  Michael Yeargan

Helping to bring the play to the stage will be Michael Yeargan, a Yale professor and renowned scenic designer who will design the sets for both Miller’s and Gurney’s plays. Lamos, who will direct “Broken Glass,” discussed the nature of the relationship between the director and the set designer with Yeargan, with Lamos suggesting that, in most cases, after the director has read the play his first discussions about its staging will be with the set designer, who obviously brings a visual take on the words in the script, which helps the director in the initial stages of bringing the play to life.

Given that “Broken Glass” won’t be boarded until early fall, Yeargan has not yet come up with any specific designs but, when he is not involved with the previews of “The King and I,” the revival at the Vivian Beaumont Theater starring Kelli O’Hara, he has been thinking about the play.

“It’s the play’s title,” he said, “the broken glass. You can’t get away from that,” suggesting that the set might somehow incorporate that motif in some manner.

Lamos had another take: “Perhaps it should have the look of film noir.”

Broken glass and dark, menacing shadows may not end up as part of the staging of the play, but that is where the scenic designer and director are right now – but it’s early days. All too soon, however, the show will be cast, the sets designed, rehearsals off-site will be over and it will be time for the technical rehearsals, the moment when cast and crew gather onstage to work out the innumerable “bugs” in the production. It’s an arduous task, running at the Playhouse for three days from noon to midnight, but as Lamos explained, “it’s when we find the vision, we find out how the play wants to breathe.”  He paused and then used a different metaphor: “It’s, well, let’s watch ‘baby’ take its first steps.”

Yeargan agreed, but suggested that here at the Playhouse the whole process was less arduous, for coming to work here was like coming home, a place where “you can take your shoes off,” relax and just do your job. His comment elicited nods from Gurney and Tillinger.

Yeargan looked out at the audience, at the theater, and said: “You feel like there are good ghosts here.”



Those ghosts, going all the way back to Dorothy Gish, will certainly be hovering as the Playhouse ventures into its 85th season, a season that appears to offer those who will attend the five productions the opportunity to both laugh and cry and, for a span of two hours, to be part of a community.  


Monday, March 9, 2015

Thank Goodness for Second Acts

"Good People" -- Square One Theatre Company -- Thru March 21

                                      Janet Rathert and Bryan Michael Riley

By Geary Danihy

It takes a while for any play to get off the ground, for lift to develop beneath the wings of necessary exposition, but in the case of David Linday-Abaire’s “Good People” (nominated for two Tony Awards in 2011), which recently opened at Square One Theatre Company in Stratford, the runway is very long – in fact it stretches almost the entire length of the first act of this two-act play directed by Square One’s creative director, Tom Holehan. It’s not that the dialogue isn’t engaging or the characters well-limned, it’s just that there just doesn’t seem to be any compelling reason to care about these characters and scant conflict evident in the play’s first 55 minutes. As the lights go down on the first act one might consider tuning out, but don’t, for there’s a second act, lift is finally achieved and the play, if it doesn’t exactly soar, reaches a decent height.

Set in South Boston (Southie) and the ritzy Massachusetts suburb of Chestnut Hill, the play focuses on Margaret -- Margie -- (the ebullient, intense, always engaging Janet Rathert) as a woman who has lived on the brink since she was a teenager, now a single mom with a mentally deficient daughter. Margie is a survivor in a ceaselessly turbulent sea (much of the turbulence of her own making) who never escaped Southie (both physically and psychologically) and who exists from one paycheck to the next. In the opening scene her paycheck, earned at a Dollar Store, is once again in jeopardy, for her boss, Stevie (Darius James Copland) is taking her to task for once again being late for work (the need to care for her daughter the cause of the tardiness). He’s compelled by management to fire her, which sets her off on a quest to find another job to survive.

                                   Darius James Copland and Alice McMahon

There’s always bingo as a diversion, and a source of some quick cash, and it’s in the basement of a Catholic church that we meet Margie’s friends, her landlord, Dottie (Alice McMahon), and Jean (Danielle Sultini)…and, again, Stevie, who, it is rumored, is gay because be likes to play bingo. The badinage amongst the characters is engaging, but it’s not obvious where all of this is going, nor is anything made clearer when Maggie essentially forces her way into Mike’s office, Mike (Brian Michael Riley) being a successful doctor who once, as a Southie teenager, dated Maggie for several months. She’s looking for a job, but she’s also as bristly as a hedgehog, taunting that with his success Mike has become “lace curtain” – a phrase meaning that he’s risen above his allotted station in life (the Kennedy’s were considered lace curtain). She doesn’t get a job, but she does coerce Mike into inviting her to his birthday party, where she may make some contacts that might lead to employment. However, Mike calls to tell Margie that his daughter is sick and the party has been cancelled.

That’s about it for the first act. Not much on which to hang a dramatic hat. But there’s more here than meets the eye, for the second act opens with Margie appearing at Mike’s house, even though she knows the party is off – she suspects he’s told her this because he really doesn’t want her to attend. What follows, as Margie meets Mike’s wife, Katie (Jessica Myers), a black woman, and interacts with Mike, is an unraveling, a shriving and a dissection of relationships hinted at in the first act that ultimately define what a “good” person is, and the nature of that “goodness.” This extended scene, which takes up most of the second act, is well worth the wait.

                             Janet Rathert, Jessica Myers and Brian Michael Riley

This is, without a doubt, Margie’s play, and Rathert, as she has done in prior Square One productions (most recently in “Time Stands Still”) shines. She’s on stage for the entire play, and her take on a woman beset by circumstances essentially beyond her control is riveting – even in the first act, when not much is happening, Rathert’s character exudes a diffuse, self-destructive energy that is compelling, and she has obviously given much thought to her character’s interior life, for, at the beginning of the second act, she nervously scratches at her legs, giving a physical indication of the tension and indecision that bedevils her as she confronts Mike: she knows what she is about to attempt but…she doesn’t want to do it.

Riley is more than up to the task of playing off Rathert’s Margie. He gives as good as he gets in the second act’s extended scene as a man who has painted his past as more troubled than it really was – a Southie tough wannabe -- and uneasy about what, and whom, he sacrificed to get to where he is today, and McMahom and Sultini, as Margie’s friends, though given cardboard character roles, make the most of them. The only questionable note in the production is Myers’ take on Mike’s wife. She comes across more as his live-in girlfriend than as a wife who has had to deal with and accept his idiosyncrasies and peccadilloes, and many of her lines are lost because, even in the relatively small confines of the Square One Theatre, it is often difficult to hear what she is saying. A little more projection might be in order.

“Good People,” as written by Lindsay-Abaire, is uneven, but there’s enough in the dynamic second act to make attendance a worthwhile proposition. Margie seems to just want another job, but she wants so much more, including affirmation, and as the second act unfolds you realize that, as flawed and conniving as Margie is, she really is a good person, and that this goodness, as captured in the defining act of her life and then reconfirmed as she answers Kate’s final question, warrants reward…of which there is just a hint at the curtain.


“Good People” runs through March 21. For tickets ($20, students and seniors $19), call Square One Theatre Company, 2422 Main Street, Stratford at 203-375-8778 or online at www.squareonetheatre.com.