In the opening moments of David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People,” the play’s primary concerns are laid bare. As a woman struggles in vain to convince her boss to let her keep her job despite her chronic tardiness, the characters tussle over issues of personal responsibility and personal circumstance. They also make us laugh, establishing the tone of this funny play centered on serious matters.   Under the direction of Ron Clark, the cast of the Riverside Theatre production of “Good People,” which opened Friday (1/24) night for a capacity crowd, captures the full measure of the play’s humor and heart.   Kristy Hartsgrove Mooers plays Margaret, a woman from South Boston who is struggling to get by. Her disabled adult daughter needs constant care, and Margaret struggles to hold down a job while ensuring someone looks after her. At a friend’s urging, she looks up Mike, played by Tim Budd, a former flame from the neighborhood who is now a well-off doctor. Their meeting forces both to grapple with the ways in which they see themselves and each other.   “Good People” is a play about self-definition, about the ways in which we take comfort in the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and what we are willing to do or to forego in defense of those stories. It is also a play about the roles of luck, determination, kindness, and selfishness in our lives.   The details:
  • WHAT: “Good People”
  • WHEN: Through Feb. 16
  • WHERE: Riverside Theatre, 213 N. Gilbert St., Iowa City
  • COST: $15 to $30
  • DETAILS: (319) 338-7672 or
    Mike believes in self-determination — an up by your own bootstraps philosophy — while Margaret sees all too vivid examples of the power of luck, good or bad, to influence how a life turns out.   Hartsgrove Mooers and Budd bring to the fore the shifting dynamics of their characters’ relationship—the once shared affection, the hurt feelings, the tug of old loyalties, the different understandings of their pasts and presents. Hartsgrove Mooers offers an exceptional portrayal of a desperate woman who clings to her belief in her own essential niceness even as she learns that it hasn’t served her well.   The play’s comedic highlights frequently feature Hartsgrove Mooers, Jody Hovland as Dottie, Margaret’s landlady, and Carrie Houchins-Witt, as her friend Jean. The three of them share excellent timing and found just the right tones for their offbeat characters. Houchins-Witt has a gift for delivering laugh-garnering expletives, while Hovland captures her character’s quirky, craft-making personality perfectly.   Osean Perez plays Stevie, Margaret’s erstwhile boss and avid bingo player, and delivers one of the play’s most poignant moments. Mallory Raven Ellen Backstrom plays Kate, Mike’s wife. Kate is black and enjoyed a privileged upbringing, and Backstrom skillfully enacts the ways in which these facts add layers of tension to Mike and Margaret’s confrontation.   Amid these strong performances, the actors did seem to struggle to settle into a consistent approximation of the distinctive South Boston accent. In the play’s early scenes this was something of a distraction, but as the characters came more fully to life, it was less of a concern.   Shelly A. Ford’s scenic design, supported by David Thayer’s lighting design, is impressive. In particular, the use of bricks to support the platform that serves as Mike’s office in the first act and his home in the second is a wonderful detail. Mike’s spaces are both upstage and raised above Margaret’s spaces in South Boston, highlighting the distance that has grown between them as Mike has found success and Margaret has remained behind.   “Good People” is good work that will make you laugh and make you think in equal measure.