Meet the Rogue

Live theater. Unsolicited commentary.
From Detroit to Lansing.

Carolyn Hayes is the Rogue Critic, est. late 2009.

In 2011, the Rogue attended 155 plays, readings, and festivals (about 3 per week) and penned 115 reviews (about 2.2 per week).

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Theaters and Companies

The Abreact (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2011 SIR

The AKT Theatre Project (Wyandotte)
website | reviews

Blackbird Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Detroit Repertory Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

The Encore Musical Theatre Co. (Dexter)
website | reviews

Go Comedy! (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Hilberry Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Jewish Ensemble Theatre (West Bloomfield)
website | reviews

Magenta Giraffe Theatre Co. (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Matrix Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Meadow Brook Theatre (Rochester)
website | reviews

Performance Network Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews

Planet Ant Theatre (Hamtramck)
website | reviews

Plowshares Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

Purple Rose Theatre Co. (Chelsea)
website | reviews

The Ringwald Theatre (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Tipping Point Theatre (Northville)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Threefold Productions (Ypsilanti)
website | reviews

Two Muses Theatre (West Bloomfield Township)
website | reviews

Williamston Theatre (Williamston)
website | reviews







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Good People

It’s probably safe to say that very few people truly self-identify as "bad." Hence, playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s coyly titled Good People has the potential to apply to a wide swath of individuals and qualities, and indeed it does. In the play’s Michigan premiere at Performance Network Theatre, director David Wolber doggedly cultivates a quicksand world of keenly felt economic hardship that reflects a growing percentage of Americans, forcing his characters to make daily decisions that cruelly pit kindness against basic self-preservation. Incredibly, though, the show proves as viciously humorous as it is viciously relevant, and this production achieves its purpose by setting each of those disparate bars high and pulling out all the stops.

The play’s initial scene immediately plunges the viewer into a world in which dire straits is not an abstraction. Margaret (Suzi Regan) is once again late to her job at the dollar store, because insufficient money cannot buy reliable childcare and hourly job schedules are by their nature inflexible, in a vicious cycle that allows for no safety nets and absolutely no margin for error. But although she’s bracing herself for another dressing down by her much younger manager (Logan Ricket), in fact Margaret has run out of chances and is being summarily fired. To add insult to injury, the meeting takes place in the alley behind the store, the first of several opportunities for sound designer Carla Milarch to forcefully insert insistent reminders of close proximity and nonexistent borders. Lack of privacy or breathing room is the norm for this South Boston community, where the accents are thick and the ties thicker, and under Wolber’s adamant direction, the severity of the circumstance is not something to be debated. What’s interesting is how bitingly funny it also is — yes, in the funny-because-it’s-true sense; yes, we laugh so as not to cry; but beyond that is caustic, braying comedy that slays, much of it Regan’s. Her use of familiarity as a weapon to make unpleasant interactions as uncomfortable as possible is a vicious and effective tool, one that proves both a blessing and a curse.

The production hammers home the impossibility of a better situation, but Margaret’s world is not devoid of support. Her frequent coffee klatch consists of landlady/babysitter Dottie (Ruth Crawford) and catty childhood friend Jean (MaryJo Cuppone). Too close to each other’s situations to be bothered with social niceties, the three freely discuss money, Margaret’s mentally disabled adult daughter, and the goings on in the neighborhood with practiced familiarity and necessary candor. Costumer Christa Koerner does well by each of the characters, from close-but-not-quite thrift store fit to a shopworn housecoat to the impeccable polished-trashy look that somehow perfectly sets up Cuppone’s scathing unsolicited opinions. She’s hilariously forceful when matching barbs with lordly Crawford, but it’s all in the service of fierce loyalty, such as when Jean describes reconnecting with a former classmate who made it out and encourages Margaret to look him up and ask after a job.

This hometown hero of sorts is Mike (Alex Leydenfrost), an Ivy-educated physician and textbook example of how the other half lives (thanks to Daniel C. Walker’s set and lighting design, which luxuriates in space in contrast to the ingeniously tucked-in corners of the Southie scenes). Their reunion in his office, following a nonstarter of an informational interview, plays like a subtly physical and blatantly verbal sparring match — old paramours and friends matching jibe for escalating jibe, all of which culminate in a bizarre double dog dare of a party invitation. When Mike must oh-so-conveniently rescind the offer, it makes sense for Margaret to call his bluff, setting off a full discomfort symphony and cringe-inducing fireworks show that commands most of the second act. At the suburban home Mike shares with his wife, Kate (Qamara “Peaches” Black), properties designer Stefanie Din digs further in to the impassible chasm between have and have-not, turning a homemade hostess gift into a laughably kitschy pittance. The evening begins at a decorum deficit and further devolves as the parties attempt to make the best of Margaret’s unannounced arrival; even as Kate is warmly welcoming and curious to learn more about Mike’s hardscrabble past, Black manifests a wonderful undercurrent of guilty uncertainty as to how to behave in light of her own lifelong privilege. But the piano-string tension in the room is chiefly the work of Regan and Leydenfrost, who expertly drive haltingly awkward reminiscence to increasingly dangerous territory that challenges the notion of goodness alluded to in the play’s title. The ensuing nastiness is a tsunami of character complexity and sharp direction, in a ragged and unpredictable scene that reaches shocking heights of emotion.

This Good People succeeds on the immediacy of the small-scale story that occupies its brisk two hours, delivering the play’s clear editorial point of view without feeling preachy. The play’s messy look at adversity and who overcomes it has a thundering effect, reinforced in a coda that spins welcome optimism onto a downtrodden reality. Incredibly, even through cynical laughter and gut-shot pathos, the whole of the show becomes an inspiring journey, the kind that spurs introspection and determined positivity about the human race.

Good People is no longer playing.
For the latest from Performance Network Theatre, click here.