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Humor tempers despair in 'Good People'

By Lynn Trenning
Correspondent
GTNQCO38.3
Shannon J Hager -
Cynthia Farbman Harris stars as Margie Walsh, in the regional premiere of "Good People" at Carolina Actors Studio Theatre. , "Good People" runs through Nov. 9.

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    “Good People”

    The regional premiere of David Lindsay-Abaire’s look at both sides of the track by Carolina Actors Studio Theatre.

    WHEN: Through Nov. 9. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

    WHERE: 2424 N. Davidson St., Suite 113.

    TICKETS: $18-$28.

    DETAILS: 704-455-8542; www.nccast.com.



In David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People,” one day in Boston’s Southie neighborhood is pretty much like the next. There’s work, if you’re lucky enough to have it. There’s gossip over coffee where the same old stories are rehashed. And there is bingo on the weekend. Poverty makes the world a small place.

Billed as a comedy, “Good People” is more a tale of modern despair, alleviated by just enough humor to make it palatable. Conversations are harmless banter until they aren’t. Characters are joined by circumstance, not love. Director Tony Wright carefully paces the dialogue in Carolina Actors Studio Theatre’s production to maximize the power of repetition. David Lindsay-Abaire’s dialogue isn’t erudite; it is plebian with a scathing edge. Anxiety is a minor character throughout the play.

Cynthia Farbman Harris plays Margie. A native Southie, she’s a single mother to a special needs adult daughter. The play opens with an uncomfortable encounter with her boss (Daniel O’Sullivan) at the Dollar Store. Margie unfolds into a complicated character. Her circumstances make her sympathetic, but she is also a bully. It’s a deft performance.

Her posse includes her landlord Dottie, played by Annette Gill, on whom she depends for childcare and forgiveness when her rent is late. Dottie is a Negative Nellie, and a funny one at that. Dottie is countered by Anne Lambert, who plays Margie’s friend Jean. Don’t mess with Jean. She’s a hard hitting, pick yourself up by the bootstraps type of woman who excels at one-liners that draw blood. Lambert has her number.

Life’s tedium is disrupted by a random encounter with Margie’s childhood cohort Mike, who returned to the rich side of town as a doctor. Lamar Wilson lends equal parts vulnerability, charm, and astonishment to his role. His wife Kate is played with sardonic sincerity by Alexis Louder.

This is a tale of the haves and have-nots in today’s United States. Imagine making $9 an hour and having to pay for childcare. Imagine that the boy you once dated now lives in a big house in the fine section of town, and pays more for the cheese he will serve at his party than you make in a week.

The characters seek hope where they can. There’s bingo, with its potential cash prize. And there is extortion, if you can find a plausible victim.

Set Designer Tim Baxter-Ferguson uses the space by trading out windows to create a back alley, a cheap apartment, a bingo hall and a rich man’s house. The exterior surfaces of brick, wood and concrete are well executed.

The script leans on contrasts. Mike’s wife is a highly educated black woman who mistakes Margie for the caterer. Margie’s lack of sophistication limits her opportunities, but gives the power to antagonize Mike for daring to succeed. The climactic scene pits Margie against her own nature, but could use a good edit. Unpredictability is arresting, but not always credible.

The playwright accurately depicts two worlds that exist side by side but have little in common. It is entertaining, but not a bit funny.

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