A fertile field of subtext is working away under the thick Boston accents of Good People, the final mainstage show of Winnipeg’s theatre season. Desire, disgust, blackmail – they’re all threatening to bloom at once as out-of-work Margaret (Martha Burns) shakes down an ex-Southie boyfriend (Ari Cohen) for a job that will keep her life from swirling further down the shitter.
It’s a shame, then, the talking head drama is planted in the cavernous John Hirsch main stage, which fights intimacy tooth and nail. Snag a close seat – you’ll need it to catch the cast teasing out the nuances of Lindsay-Abaire’s intelligent, character driven script as the playwright throws his weight behind Burns and Cohen in turn. You can also hope Burns, finally making her MTC debut, is able to climb on top of her massive share of lines – opening night’s stumbles stood out not just against Cohen’s easy, layered performance but against her own inspired, crystalline moments.
Those moments, if you’re thinking of leaving at intermission, nearly all come in the second act when the slow burn first half finally pays off. (Though full credit goes to Tracey Nepinak’s “mouthy Southie” Jean for making a meal of what could be a throwaway part.) Good People finds its true footing here as it switches to a pseudo-courtroom drama, with Burns, Cohen and Audrey Dwyer (here a terrifically feisty frigid neglected wife) throwing back the wine and hammering out which of them is a good person.
It’s a whodecent rather than a whodunit.
Also, hooray for a play that doesn’t tie everything up neatly. Walking out of the theatre, there’s room left for the audience to debate not just a few key plot points but important questions of fate, class, and making your own luck. And fun to be had watching a main stage crowd titillated by blue collar cursing.
“Did she just say the C-word? Oh my Looooord.”
By David Lindsay-Abaire
John Hirsch Mainstage (RMTC)
Through May 10
Directed by Vikki Anderson; with Eric Blais, Martha Burns, Ari Cohen, Audrey Dwyer, Patricia Hunter and Tracey Nepinak; set and costume design by Patrick Clark; lighting design by Scott Henderson; sound design by John Bent Jr.; dialect coaching by Diane Pitblado and Shannon Vickers; stage managed by Melissa Novecosky; assistant stage managed by Sandra McEwing; apprentice stage managed by Matthew Lagacé.
Matthew TenBruggencate is a Winnipeg-based writer. He is owned by two cats. Follow him @tenbruggencate, where is he spreading nasty rumours about you.