Thursday, April 4, 2013

Off Broadway: Good With People

L-R: Andrew Scott-Ramsay and Blythe Duff in GOOD WITH PEOPLE. Photo by Carol Rosegg

David Harrower’s Good With People, an edgy, existential, hour-long, one-act, two-hander set in Helensburgh, Scotland, is currently enjoying its US premiere as part of the 2013 Brits Off Broadway festival at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan.  As the play begins, Evan (Andrew Scott-Ramsay) has just returned to Helensburgh, having spent the last seven years as a volunteer nurse in Pakistan.  He checks into the Seaview Hotel, only to be confronted by Helen (Blythe Duff), the hotel’s receptionist and the mother of one of Evan’s former classmates.  The sexual tension between the twenty-something Evan and the middle-aged Helen is evident from the get-go but so, too, are a number of other unresolved issues: the questionable relationship that existed between Evan and Helen’s son, Jack; the inherent conflict between residents of the town’s nuclear naval base (of which Evan was a member) and the town’s war protesters; Helen’s own strained marriage; and Helensburgh’s social class distinctions.

The play starts out in most promising fashion.  The playwright has a wonderful ear for dialogue and the banter between Evan and Helen is highly charged.  And the suggestions that there are strange mysteries to be solved – What, actually, did occur between Evan and Jack in the past and where is Jack now?  Whatever prompted Evan to volunteer to become a Red Cross nurse in Pakistan in the first place?  What really are Helen’s feelings for Evan? – all seem to portend an exciting theatrical experience in the offing.

Alas, it was not to be.  The answers we ultimately receive turn out to be anti-climactic at best and trivial at worst.  The play which seemed to promise explosive discoveries rapidly deflates and the simplest questions remain unanswered.

But if I was disappointed in the play itself, I certainly was not disappointed in the performances of Andrew Scott-Ramsey and Blythe Duff.  They are both consummate professionals and, given the material they had to work with, they both do a very admirable job.  

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