Front Row Center
By Michael Warren
By David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by Lynn Phelan
This play was first produced in New York in 2011 and was nominated for two Tony awards that year – Best Play and Best Leading Actress in a Play (Frances McDormand) with the latter winning. So I naturally expected to see a well-written play and moreover something unusually thought-provoking. I was not disappointed.
The lead character “Margie” is played with considerable skill by LB Hamilton, an experienced actor/director who is a welcome addition to the theatrical talent at Lakeside. In the opening scene, Margie is being fired from her job at the Dollar Store for persistent tardiness. At once we see the multiple aspects of her character. She’s poor and she’s desperate – a single mother with a retarded daughter – so she’s mean and feisty and willing to lay a guilt trip on the manager.
After all, she went to school with his mother in the same poor area of South Boston. But ultimately she’s defeated, as she always knew she would be. It’s the story of her life. Greg Clarke is entirely believable as “Stevie” the manager, and I also enjoyed excellent performances from Rosann Balbontin as Margie’s pushy friend “Jean,” and Patricia Guy as her landlady “Dottie.” Jean suggests that Margie go to see “Mike” who has made good as a doctor and has a smart office downtown. Evidently Margie and Mike dated for a while when they were both in high school thirty years earlier. Maybe he can help her find a job – he’s also a Southie, and they’re “Good People.”
The second Act takes place in Mike’s home in Chestnut Hill, a swanky area of Boston. This is where the play gets really interesting, with a tense interaction between Mike and Margie. If this were a British play, we might think it’s about class differences, while in the US it’s about hard work and making money. But does this make you a good person? The author suggests that maybe being good is a luxury only poorer people can afford. Russell Mack is extremely convincing as the pathologically ambitious doctor – this must be his best ever performance. And Connie Davis, in her first speaking role at LLT, plays his wife “Kate” with just the right amount of edge, covered up by bourgeois politeness. Margie suggests that Mike could be the father of her retarded daughter, but he refuses to believe it and in any case he tells her that he had a career to make and would have dumped her. Kate also rejects the idea, and in the end Margie heroically denies it. She’s just too nice for her own good.
Lynn Phelan has done a wonderful job in bringing this subtle and intelligent play to the Lakeside stage. Congratulations also to Beth Leitch as Stage Manager. My only quibble is that the sound effects were at times too loud, and drowned out some dialogue. I must also mention the ingenious set, with smooth transitions from back alley to kitchen to doctor’s office to bingo hall in Act One, and a marvelous layout for the doctor’s home in Act Two. Special thanks to Rob Stupple for his Set Design and the Set Construction crew for their work. Overall, this was an excellent and well-acted show and incidentally confirms that serious plays can be successfully performed here at Lakeside.
Column: Front Row Center
Michael Warren grew up in London, England and lived on Baker Street very close to where Sherlock Holmes hung out his shingle. He graduated with an Honors degree in Mathematics from King’s College, Cambridge, which no doubt helps him to balance his check book. While a student, he edited a humorous magazine entitled “ffobia” which was widely circulated amongst his friends.