BLOOMSBURG - If "all the world's a stage," then all of BTE's stage is a bingo hall.
Audiences entering the Alvina Krause Theatre, 226 Center St., to see "Good People" are handed bingo cards to play a game or two with Danny Roth calling the game, with a large illuminated bingo board lighting the number as called, and the noisy bingo balls bouncing in a glass container.
Bingo is a big part of Margie Walsh's social life in Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire's "Good People," which has 7:30 p.m. performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday matinees through May 25, as the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble's final Main Stage production of the 2013-14 season.
Shown are BTE ensemble member Laurie McCants as Dottie, BTE ensemble member Elizabeth Dowd as Margaret and BTE affiliated artist Samantha Norton as Jean in “Good People,” showing through May 25.
Margie, the tough, single mother living and barely surviving in Boston's South Side, has just been fired as a cashier in a Dollar Store, and now worries how she can pay the rent for herself and her mentally disabled daughter. At the weekly bingo game, Margie learns that her old high school flame Mike Dillon has moved back to Boston and is a prosperous doctor.
Deciding to ask him for a job, Margie shows up at Mike's office, and after some goodhearted needling, wrangles an invitation to his birthday party. After getting a call that the party is canceled, Margie believes that Mike is still holding a party but would be embarrassed if she shows up at his Chestnut Hill home with his ritzy friends.
She heads off to the party, where she is warmly greeted by Mike's young wife, Kate. After discovering that the party really has been canceled, Margie stays. After some wine and prodding from Kate, Margie spills some covered-up truths from Mike's past, which causes nervous laughs, and plenty of fireworks. Tensions run high when Mike accuses Margie of prejudice against his wife, who is black, and when Margie retorts by revealing secrets from Mike's past.
"Good People," which also led off Penn State Centre Stage's 2013-14 season, hits on a subject not often highlighted in this country, namely class differentiation, or how a "nice person" (which Margie calls herself) can get stuck where she is.
James Goode, the show's producer, said in an interview during the show's intermission last week that "Good People" was selected to conclude BTE's season" because it "is a good contemporary play and mixes drama and comedy, which our audiences always like."
"Good People" does make the audience realize that everyone's definition of "Good People" may differ, but Margie's plight is funny, and very human in its perspective.
It's almost a play in three acts: two on stage, and the third when the audience leaves and tries to answer questions. Like most great plays, "Good People" raises questions. Here it's about race, gender, luck and how twists of fate and escaping one's roots that aren't easily answered.
Elizabeth Dowd calls "Good People" her "dream project," and Dowd is great as the tart-tongued Margie, a character who is not always easy to like, but one who stirs deep emotions. Her performance in Mike's home crackles with her uneasiness and then with spite, as she brings up her high school pregnancy, stirring up trouble between Mike and his wife.
Mike, played by Andrew Hubatsek, is defensive when Margie calls him "lace-curtain Irish" in his office, but affable and cocky when she first arrives at his Chestnut Hill home and then, with very good reason, turning wary.
Visiting actress Katherine LeRoy gives an appealing performance as Kate, Mike's trophy wife who strikes up a warm friendship with Margie, after initially mistaken Margie as the caterer.
Margie's bingo-playing comrades include her not always understanding landlady Dottie, played by Laurie McCants, who gets laughs with her grumpy barbs and getups.
Samantha Norton, BTE affiliated artist, plays Jean, another of Margie's loyal confidants. Richard Cannaday is quietly effective as Steve, who occasionally joins the girls at their bingo table and who had to fire Margie for her constant tardiness. Although the Boston accents were inconstant during a preview performance, BTE's cast smartly delivers the dialogue with good comic timing.
Cassandra Pisieczo finely directs "Good People," moving the cast around the different South Boston settings in Act I, and Mike's beautifully adorned Chestnut Hill living room in Act II.
It's likely that Pisiezo, who also is sound designer, collaborated closely with the set designer Cassandra King. Act I's sets are outside the Dollar Store where Margie is fired; the bingo hall in the church basement; Margie's kitchen, where a few choice expletives are uttered in bemoaning her fate; and on a raised platform, Mike's office where Margie's visit sets off the chain reaction in Mike's home Act II.
The program alerts the audience to "mature language," flashing (but not strobe) lights and loud noises.
The playwright grew up in South Boston, and "Good People" brings an authenticity to the world of perception versus reality. The play is really funny, especially when striking nerves with uncomfortable interactions and shocking moments. The audience laughs loud - often with uneasiness - and winces at the realization that "Good People" really don't ever get a chance to become better.
Great comic timing and top notch characterizations should make BTE's sharp production end its 2013-14 season as both an artistic and box-office success.
For tickets, call the box office at 570-784-8181 or 1-800-282-0283 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org.