Review: Theater Tech - Good People at Role Players Ensemble
By Kris Neely
These commentaries are primarily focused on the production, direction, and technical aspects of theater and performing arts.
According to the program for this show, “Margie Walsh is barely getting by on her Dollar Store salary. When she loses her job and faces eviction, she takes a chance by rekindling things with an old flame, hoping for a fresh start. Quirky, unpredictable, and grounded in a genuine humor that comes from hitting rock bottom, Good People will have you laughing one moment and crying the next as it explores the natures of our loyalties and our hopes.”
Mr. Linday-Abaire’s script shows us characters we easily recognize, and it is character that underpins this play. We know Maggie is on the ropes practically from the tenth line of dialog and watching her trying to keep her financial head above water tells us much about her, her workmates, and her “friends.” It’s familiar territory we’ve all seen before, yet the script avoids the clichéd, the predictable, and the obvious moments when lesser writers would have played on our heartstrings. What you see is what you get and what you get is a realistic, naturalistic view into everywhere, everyday lower-middle class life, character, and motivations.
As rendered by Role Players Ensemble (RPE), the production was competent and for the most part well rendered. An increase in tempo and a bit more drive, combined with a little more attention to some technical shortcomings would have gone a long way to making this play as funny/quirky/hard-hitting in person as it is on the page.
Set designer Robert B. Golden and director Eric F. Hayes chose to use projection of various indoor and outdoor images against the upstage wall where other theaters might have relied on built sets. When done with taste and serious attention to the selection of imagery—as was the case here—this method can add dimension to staging while helping rein in the production’s budget. The rest of the set consisted primarily of various rotating wall units that showed the exterior wall in an alley, the interior wall of a professional’s office, and so on. (Score: 7/10)
Overall, the constructed units for this show were adequate. One wonders if using three-sided units might have permitted faster scene changes. (Score: 7/10)
Randal Chun, assisted by Jessica Riley, stage managed the show. Entrances were crisp, cues were universally tight, but set changes were much too slow—a common problem in local and regional theater today. When the audience is wrapped up in the story and characters, trying to puzzle out the latest plot device or enjoy a stitch-inducing laugh line, a slow set change lets the air out of the balloon, and the audience has to reset. It’s understandable that some set changes need to be stretched a bit to accommodate quick costume changes, but these too must be rehearsed to minimize the time involved. (Score: 7/10)
Ron Evans was responsible for the competent sound design. A bit more refinement in sound effects selection or in re-mixing the ball sounds might have underscored the crispness of the bingo scene. Ditto the bingo announcer sound effects. There were obvious comic cues in the character’s dialogue that went unmined. (Score: 7/10)
Props and Costumes
Lisa Danz is a backstage veteran with a lengthy resume to her credit. Props were wisely limited to essentials and were well selected and presented. Similarly, costume selection was competent, albeit a bit too predictable. Also, the telephone used should have had a cord between handset and base. (Props score: 7/10. Costume Score: 7/10)
The show was directed by RPE Artistic Director Eric F. Hayes. Overall direction was solid, professional, and experienced. That said, more crispness in both the overall pacing of the show and in the aforementioned set changes would have added zest. I’m also not a huge fan of accents in local or even regional theater unless absolutely required by the part/production or from a native speaker. Even with the best dialog coach—and this production enjoyed the expertise of Robin Taylor—accents add a 5-10 percent tardiness factor to each line/scene/act. Blocking could have had some natural activity added to give the play a bit more motion. (Score: 8/10)
Stephanie Lutz was the lighting designer for this production. Ms. Lutz is a journeyman-level lighting designer and it showed in this production. This theater enjoys an abundance of lighting instruments with which to light a scene. Unless there was some technical issue rendering the other instruments unavailable for use, there was no reason for dim spots between actors. This is especially true in set pieces where actors don’t move about a great deal, such as the bingo scene. Combining traditional lighting design with image projection to the rear, as opposed to rear projection of images, can make maintaining correct light levels and mixes tricky, to be sure. But dim spots are devoutly to be avoided at all costs. (Score: 5/10)
Mr. Hayes selected an able cast for his show. Of particular note was Bonnie Dechant in the role of Jean, a solid, skillful performance.
Melanie Dupuy was very competent as Margaret—a role originated on Broadway by Frances McDormand. A recent transplant from Los Angeles, we look forward to seeing more work from this solid talent. As Mike, Ed Nattenberg created a nicely nuanced character. (Score: 7.5/10)
As a whole, this production was competently mounted and presented. The book, by an obviously gifted playwright, will no doubt become a stalwart in local and regional theaters. Casting had some notable bright spots. A bit more pacing, tighter lighting design, and faster set changes would have resulted in a higher score. (Score: 7/10)
Overall Theater Tech Score: (69.50/100) -- Good.
Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by Eric F. Hayes
Role Players Ensemble, Village Theater, Danville, CA
Tickets for RPE productions available online at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Run time: 2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Kris Neely is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics’ Circle and an award-winning stage director. In 2013 Neely earned an SFBATCC Best Director award for Lend Me a Tenor (Ross Valley Players) and his direction of Leading Ladies for Novato Theater Company was listed as one of the 10 Best Plays of 2014 in the North Bay by the Marin Independent Journal newspaper. He was also nominated for a 2013 Outstanding Production Shellie Award for directing A Case of Libel for the Pittsburg Community Theater.
Mr. Neely’s blogs on theater and performing arts are found online at Aisle Seat Reviews https://aisleseatreview.wordpress.com/, For All Events (www.forallevents.com), Marin Onstage (http://backstage.marinonstage.org), and nationally at OnStage (www.onstageblog.com).