‘Good People’ not so good; ‘Pirates’ walks the plank

Local Life March 29, 2013 0 Comments

by Clark Groome

The week just passed was a mixed bag theatrically. The three productions I saw included one more highly regarded by others than I felt it deserved, an overdone but still enjoyable production of a delightful old musical and a stunning production of a new play that deals with what I do and what I cover: writing. Here’s what I encountered:

“Good People”

David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People” was very well received when it opened on Broadway a couple of years ago. After seeing it at the Walnut Street Theatre, where it plays through April 28, I can’t figure out why.

Margie (Julie Czarnecki) is fired from her job in a Dollar Store in South Boston, a/k/a “Southie.” A couple of her girlfriends suggest that she go see her old boyfriend Mike (Dan Olmstead) to find out if he needs any help in his medical office.

Mike has left his roots behind, and the interaction between the two old friends is both funny and combative. Margie makes no pretense about who she is and, by contrast, lets Mike know that can take the boy out of Southie, but you can’t take Southie out of the boy. Margie, desperate, has a mentally challenged adult daughter who needs constant care. Without a job they might end up on the street.

There are some hard-to-believe twists and turns. None of the characters seems real. There are only a few moments when the play and its characters do come alive. Czarnecki and Olmstead do good work, as does Danielle Herbert as Mike’s wife Kate. The rest of the company is more caricature than character.

Robert Klingelhoefer’s sets are a mixed lot. In South Boston they look slapdash, but when Margie goes to Mike’s Chestnut Hill (the other one) home, the set is stunning. One of the production’s biggest weaknesses is that no one in it sounds like someone who grew up in Southie, a huge deficit for a play in which that neighborhood plays such a major role.

For tickets call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787 or visit walnutstreettheatre.org

“Pirates of Penzance”

W.S.Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s great “The Pirates of Penzance” might seem an odd choice for the Bristol Riverside Theatre to include in its current season. It is, after all, an operetta more suited to the opera house than the theater.

Like several other G&S operettas, “Pirates” has made quite successful theatrical appearances, none more so than the stunning 1980 Broadway production that starred Kevin Kline, Linda Ronstadt, Rex Smith, Estelle Parsons and George Rose. That production ran more than two years.

The Bristol “Pirates,” which plays through April 28, borrows from that production and adds a few twists of its own. The most that can be said about the Keith Baker-helmed production is that the music is still glorious, even though the orchestra was generally tentative throughout. Vocally, on the other hand, it is quite good.

The production itself always seems to be trying too hard. By its very nature, “Pirates” is clever and funny. The performers should simply relax. The story about the young pirate Frederick and his romance with Mabel is so delightful that overdoing the staging and the costumes actually detracts from the show’s great humor.

Bristol’s leads are a mixed lot. Patrick Dunn is just right as young Frederick. Maria Failla’s Mabel, while not as comely as others I’ve seen, has a lovely voice. Nick Cordero’s Pirate King, April Woodall’s Ruth and Larry Cahn’s Major-General Stanley, the very model of a modern major general, are all fine when they’re not chewing the scenery.

For tickets, call 215-785-0100 or visit brtstage.org

“Seminar”

Writing is hard work. It can also be scary, inspired and very personal. Writers expose their ideas and feelings for all to see. These core elements of Theresa Rebeck’s edgy and insightful “Seminar” are true for all writers, but especially relevant for fiction writers.

“Seminar,” which is receiving a riveting production through April 14 at the Philadelphia Theatre Company, pits a literary superstar with four young writers who have paid $5,000 each to have him critique their work. Each of the four is talented but fragile. During the 90-minute one act, the seemingly abusive teacher does help his students improve and gain confidence.

Scott Schwartz has directed the PTC production with just the right combination of bravado and subtlety. By the end of the play, we really know and care about these writers. The cast – Rufus Collins as Leonard (the teacher), and Matt Harrington, Teresa Avia Lim, Geneviève Perrier and Luigi Sottile as his students – is an outstanding ensemble.

For tickets call 215-985-0420 or visit philadelphiatheatrecompany.org

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