Directed by George Perrin
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
An overturned chair on an otherwise bare carpeted stage “speaks” volumes about the current status of the Seaview Hotel in Helensburgh Scotland. Upright that same chair and the audience is transported back in time to a flashback of epic proportions. Move the chair about the stage during the flashback and the scenes change disclosing a tryst between two persons, two generations, two histories, and two agendas.
This kind of precision and clarity marks the entire 55 minute performance of “Good with People” running at 59E59 Theater B through Sunday April 21. In David Harrower’s enchanting and mesmerizing play, Helen Hughes recalls one of the last visits made to the Seaview Hotel, the visit which markedly changed her life and the way she deals with people – herself and others. Memories, particularly this memory owned by Helen, is a different kind of memory, one through which space and time give way to substance and terrain: the substance of revenge gone missing and the terrain of unrequited albeit unconditional love.
Tales told from the point of view of an unreliable narrator are perhaps the most tantalizing. We only know how good Helen and Evan are with people through Helen’s lens and that creates a cauldron of suspense and redemption.
Ostensibly, Evan Bold (Andrew Scott-Ramsay) returns to Helensburgh to attend the re-marriage of his parents. Evan has been volunteering with the Red Cross as a nurse in Pakistan. After refusing to release a Taliban soldier from the hospital, two Taliban “guys who patrolled the hospital” beat Evan up in the school playground” injuring his shoulder. Evan chooses to stay at the hotel where he knows Helen Hughes (Blythe Duff) works. As a child, Evan had participated in bullying Helen’s son Jack. Despite refrains of “I hardly know you” and “You don’t know me,” it becomes clear during the course of the play that this meeting is more than a chance occurrence: Evan and Helen need to meet to work out things from the past, to participate actively in the process of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation and to fall in unconditional love.
As these two unlikely but star-crossed companions jockey for position, power, and possibility, secrets of the past and worries for the future emerge. Accusations are made (“j’accuse”), including Helen’s to Evan, “You have a strange way with people.” However, both of these remarkable characters make their “bid for freedom.” And both are renegades. Evan Bold says is most succinctly: “People who weren’t content with their lot in life. Who looked beyond their immediate situation. Who wanted to make things better for themselves and others. The renegades. The idealists. Troublemakers.” Through the course of the play, Evan and Helen recognize they are both incurable renegades and equip the audience to identify with the renegade and the idealist in each member of the audience.
Under George Perrin’s meticulous and bold direction, Blythe Duff and Andrew Scott-Ramsay give electrifying life to David Harrower’s script. Tantalizing tropes teach the audience almost every moment. External struggles counterpoint the inner struggles of each character. And their conflicts mirror the conflicts between nation states and those between the individual and the world. This is a play about the power of forgiveness, the power of redemption, and the overwhelming power of love.