Directed by Mark Kilmurry
78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli
Season: 7 April – 21 May
‘Postcode envy’ permeates Sydney – a city where people instantly make assumptions about you in accordance with where you live. North Shore? Eastern Suburbs? Inner West? Far West? You know the stereotypes. In our city there are innumerable microcosms of personality, and for many people your suburb determines your characteristics, and crucially, this implicates social class. Enter the current play being staged at the Ensemble Theatre in Kirribilli (ooh, Kirribilli – I bet some stereotypes spring to mind…) entitled Good People. It’s not set in Sydney, yet aside from the pertinent Brooklyn accent its circumstances could be. Margaret is a single mum, recently laid off from her job at the dollar store that was keeping rent in hand and their heads above water. She crosses paths with an old boyfriend from high school that has since become a high-flying doctor, possibly the only alumni to become a doctor from their troubled high school. Classes converge and an uneasy commentary about wealth, struggle, and racial and socioeconomic tension emerges.
Margaret, played by Tara Morice, is a talkative and vivacious woman and Morice carries the role with utter strength that underpins the play as the leading woman. We meet Margaret right as her boss, played by Drew Livingston, lays her off. This is a low point for her, and yet we see her resounding tenacity in face of the challenge. Her friend Jean, played by Jane Phegan, continually fights to support Margaret’s best interests with good humour and spunk. What a wonderful depiction of friendship. Thrown into the mix is Dottie, Margaret’s scrupulous landlady and ‘friend’, played by Gael Ballantyne. These three women play bingo together, chatting and bickering. In these conversations racist undertones emerge, triggering an interesting laughter from the audience. I wonder if it’s a case of finding humour in the familiar, sparking some odious realisations about the society we live in. A mirror is held up to society. While the Brooklyn accent is in a sense a character of its own, the cast falter at points. It’s a difficult one to master, and as the cast sit more comfortably into the play the accent improves, enhancing the integrity of the characterisations.
The first act of the play has a rather ‘slice of life’ feel about it. It is enjoyable and interesting, but not gripping. However the triumph of the play is in the build-up of expectation – the anticipation that things have been ticking along ok for a while now, and soon everything will boil over. And in the second act, audiences receive the boil-over they have been waiting for! After Margaret meets Mike, her ex-boyfriend from high school believing there might be a job available at his doctor’s office, she is inadvertently invited to his house for his birthday party. In what is a powerhouse scene, taking place in the confines of Mike and his wife Kate’s home, captivating work takes place. Christopher Stollery plays Mike in a very grounded manner that serves for fascinating watching when he begins to unravel with Margaret’s antagonisation. Zindzi Okenyo gives a multifaceted performance as Kate, Mike’s wife, becoming increasingly conflicted as circumstances unfold. The three actors in this scene don’t miss a beat, grabbing your attention and refusing to let go.
This play is funny, well-crafted, and highlights an uneasiness in our local social commentary. Anyone who achieves something would like to believe they did so on their own merit. But it is crucial to acknowledge the undeniable influence of luck and privilege in success. It is these notions that punch a marked hole through the sinister rhetoric that argues that homeless sleep on the streets because of their poor decision-making; that people in abusive relationships should leave or its their own fault. The examples of disadvantaged groups dealt a bad hand in life could go on, while the majority of people dealt the Aces and Kings revel in the personal validation of success. Perhaps if everyone realised these cards fell into their hand by an overwhelming degree of chance, a movement of generosity, kindness and humility could prevail.