Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Good with People: Brits Off Broadway

"It stopped being about the weapons.  It was people."

The 2013 Brits Off-Broadway series kicks off this week with David Harrower's two-hander Good with People: a thoughtful drama about dying towns, the past, the future, changing your direction in life, and the meaning of bullying on a local and international scale. 

Evan Bold (Andrew Scott-Ramsay) returns to his hometown of Helensburgh, Scotland for a wedding. Upon checking into the one hotel in town for the night, he encounters Helen Hughes (Blythe Duff) at the front desk. She turns out to be the mother of Jack Hughes, a boy he cruelly bullied when he was a child. The "incident " has informed both their lives.  Evan and Helen stir up memories in each other of the past and their current circumstances.
Blythe Duff (front) and Andrew Scott-Ramsay (back) star in David Harrower's GOOD WITH PEOPLE, launching the 2013 Brits Off Broadway festival at 59E59 Theaters. Photos by Carol Rosegg
Evan asks quite pointedly when Helen brings up the "thing" again, "Is there no better thing to remember? To dwell on?...Is that all I am. A bully in the woods."  Director George Perrin uses strains of music, shadow play and dramatic tableaux to explore how the past can haunt us.  Time is fluid and memories, fantasies, and realities bump into each other.  What starts out as a straightforward narrative, quickly gets a visual treatment that is more multifaceted.  It took a few beats into the play for this to become clear but as we learn more about the characters the visually dynamic moments staged gain resonance.

Not as fraught and intense as Harrower's brilliant 2007 play Blackbird (which came back to my mind recently when I saw Rajiv Joseph's The North Pool), Good with People however in a short time  mixes the personal and global in deceptively smart ways.  The town of Helensburgh is the home of the UK's nuclear defense base.  Erasing what had been a resort town with a controversial military installation, Helen and Evan play out some political issues in local terms.  Evan is a base brat whose father's military job brought the family to Helensburgh and the tension between the military families and local townspeople was at the core of the bullying incident with Helen's son.  Evan has left this small town and has gone on to try to do good with his work out in the world as a nurse.  Helen has remained in Helensburgh and life has not turned out as she expected. 

The strength of the piece does not come from the "issues" but more about how people live their lives in the face of frustrations, disappointment, limited opportunities and the reality of their circumstances.  Evan expresses that universal truth about going "home" and the tensions inherent in that:   "I hope I've changed.  I better have changed.  Except this morning, arriving here, walking from the station, try as I might, even after seven years away, I still feel from here." 

Duff and Scott-Ramsay are compelling and have a great deal of heavy lifting in a short play: conveying sexual tension, personal difficulties, and an unpleasant hard look back at one's own past.   As the characters opened up and revealed more of their inner struggles, I found myself drawn in by both actors. 

Several days later I find moments and lines in the play coming back to me. Like the haunted characters, I find my memories of the play become more vivid and layered as they are filtered through my own mind over time. Good with People is a rich starting point for the Brits Off Broadway series which will be running through the end of June.

L-R: Blythe Duff and Andrew Scott-Ramsay star in David Harrower's GOOD WITH PEOPLE, launching the 2013 Brits Off Broadway festival at 59E59 Theaters. Photos by Carol Rosegg

I received a complimentary ticket to attend this production.

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