Claire Nowak

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

Milwaukee Rep’s Good People, set in South Boston, is a comic drama about that question.

By - Jan 23rd, 2015 01:35 pm
Laura T. Fisher, Tami Workentin, Laura Gordon, and Bernard Balbot in Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s 2014/15 Quadracci Powerhouse production of Good People. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Laura T. Fisher, Tami Workentin, Laura Gordon, and Bernard Balbot in Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s 2014/15 Quadracci Powerhouse production of Good People. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

For many, the theater is a place of escape, an excuse to forget about the struggles of everyday life and spend a couple hours in the dark solitude of someone else’s world.

But the Milwaukee Rep’s production of Good People, opening this weekend, brings a stark realization about present-day America to the stage. Written by David Lindsay-Abaire, the play follows Margie Walsh, a single mom with a handicapped adult daughter living in Southie (South Boston), as she tries to find a new job and improve her life before she is forced to live on the streets.

Margie’s is an unfortunate situation to which Americans have become all too accustomed, in the wake of the Great Recession and the growing income gap between rich and poor. But the plot is really timeless.  According to actress Laura Gordon, who plays Margie, it shows how everyone, regardless of their place in life, is only a bit of bad luck away from ending up on the street.

“It’s a smart play in that it deals with these kind of big societal issues but in a way that is very personal that I think people can relate to,” Gordon says.

Laura Gordon

Laura Gordon

Most roles in Gordon’s repertoire are well educated women. So she was surprised by how much she enjoyed Margie—not formally educated but incredibly street smart and savvy—and figuring out “what makes her tick.”

Margie’s Southie dialect was a helpful trait that helped Gordon find her way into the character, more so than if the character were from Milwaukee.

“There’s something about that particular dialect that is very to-the-point,” Gordon says. “I just found that it suited her sense of humor.”

Lindsay-Abaire grew up in Southie, so the semi-autobiographical script fully understands the rhythm of the dialogue and the sense of humor from the area. That strength of the play also presents challenges. The overlapping lines between characters and authentic regional lingo made Good People one of hardest plays Gordon’s ever had to learn.

“If you miss a word in a speech, or substitute a word because your mind isn’t working as quickly as your tongue, you can really feel it,” Gordon says. “You can feel when it’s off by a syllable. It’s really like a piece of music.”

She has a special attachment to the characters who are, as the title suggests, good people. Despite their less-than-ideal situations in life, they make the most of it with their humor and by relying on each other.

But they naturally have their flaws, which raises the complicated distinction between luck and choices, something that touches Gordon on a personal level. The time she’s spent embodying Margie makes her empathize with her character and admire her determination. Marge is wrestling with her feelings about a relative beset with similar problems as her —health, housing, new job. The play draws out an internal debate, wondering about the choices he made that put him where he is now.

“We may feel we don’t know anyone who’s right on the edge like that,” Gordon says, “but I think we are just six degrees of separation away from that kind of thing in our lives.”

She calls “Good People” relevant, topical and provocative.

In the end, it’s simply human.

Opens 8 p.m. Jan. 23 and runs through Feb. 15 at Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Tickets range from $20-65, available online or by calling 414-224-9490.

Good People Gallery

The Kreutzer Sonata

It started as a violin sonata written by Beethoven. More than 80 years after its debut, Leo Tolstoy turned it into a novella that was eventually censored by Russian authorities. Now centuries later, Renaissance Theatreworks presents the dramatic adaptation of The Kreutzer Sonata by Nancy Harris, opening this weekend.

The play borrows the plot of Tolstoy’s novella, featuring a single character—played by James Pickering—traveling on a train car and discussing how he was just acquitted of the murder of his wife. The narration is augmented by live background music performed onstage, with Joseph Ketchum on violin and Colleen Schmitt on piano. The musicians will perform selections of Beethoven’s “Kreutzer Sonata” among other pieces.

According to Suzan Fete, the artistic director of Renaissance Theaterworks, the company has never performed a piece like this before. For one thing, it involved collaboration between director Marie Kohler and, for the first time, a music director—Jill Anna Ponasik from Milwaukee Opera Theatre.

The concept of the show itself also posed a new adventure for the production team. The combination of words and music is one not often portrayed in theater, but it brings out a human element that requires both to be properly conveyed to an audience. Fete calls it “one of the finest marriages of theater and music that I’ve ever seen.”

“We really loved the idea of being able to have live music on stage, and the story is one of the most compelling stories I’ve ever heard,” Fete says. “Even though you learn in the first two minutes of the play that this man has been acquitted of murder, through the story, I found myself really sympathizing for him. I’ve seen few plays that reveal the passion of music in the way that this play does.”

Runs 7:30 p.m. Jan. 23 through Feb. 15 at Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio Theatre, 158 N. Broadway. Tickets are $31, available online or by calling 414-291-7800.

The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron?

Mixing stand-up comedy and theater, Robert Dubac tackles the tough questions about men and women with The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron? The one-man show features Dubac as five different men who attempt to break the universal “girl code” that prevents them from fully understanding the opposite sex. One fights the battle of the sexes like any other combat mission. One pulls the bad boy approach to what he fantasizes as some form of success. One muses about the subject while fishing in a fish-less lake outside his retirement home. Females in the audience can laugh at the extent men go through to interpret their actions. Men can also laugh—and pray Dubac tells them which approach is the right one.

7:30 p.m. Jan. 23 and 2 & 7:30 p.m. Jan. 24 at Wilson Theater at Vogel Hall. Tickets are $50, available online and by calling 414-273-7206.

Sunset Playhouse Productions

Community theater is alive and well at Sunset Playhouse, with two shows opening this week.  Randle P. McMurphy (Bryan Madson) challenges the status quo in Nurse Ratched (Maureen Chobanoff)’s psychatric ward in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. In a completely different style and genre of performance, Give My Regards To Broadway: New York’s Tin Pan Alley celebrates the music publishing capital of the world in the era of Broadway greats George M. Cohan, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen and Sammy Cahn. Sunset’s Ryan Cappleman, Laura Monagale, Beth Mulkerron and Jon Stewart, and Homestead High School’s Mari Duckler will all perform in the tribute.

“Cuckoo” opens 7:30 p.m. Jan. 22 and runs through Feb. 8. “Regards” runs 7:30 p.m. Jan. 26 and 2 & 7:30 p.m. Jan. 27. Both shows are held at Sunset Playhouse. Tickets for both are $20, available online or by calling 262-782-4430.

0 thoughts on “Theater: When Bad Things Happen to Good People”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Having to live on the street seems like the ultimate horror – and yes, it could happen to any of us!

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