When “Good People” opens at the University of Rhode Island Theatre tonight, two South Kingstown residents will bring their talents to the stage.
Laura Kennedy is Jean and Magdalen Papa is Dottie Gillis in the school’s production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s contemporary play that explores themes of wealth and social status in Southie, a working-class Boston neighborhood, primarily through a single mother to a daughter with disabilities. This mother, Margie Walsh, has recently been fired, and connects with old friends in a story that explores different outlooks on stability and contentment, and themes of choice and chance.
The URI Honors Colloquium is a cosponsor of the production, which ties into this year’s theme of “Inequality and the American Dream.” A panel discussion will follow Sunday’s 3 p.m. performance, featuring URI professors Richard McIntyre of the department of economics, Judy VanWyk of the department of sociology and anthropology, and Christine Gonzales of the department of history. Bryna Wortman, the play’s director and a member of the theater department, will moderate. A workshop also was recently held during Diversity Week where university students could view selected scenes from the production and then discuss elements of the play.
Kennedy is a 2012 graduate of South Kingstown High School, and Papa a 2014 graduate. Both were active in the school’s drama club, which they said entered the Rhode Island Drama Festival every year, either winning or earning alternate status.
Kennedy attended Rhode Island College for a year-and-a-half, but then transferred to URI, where she said the BFA program is more intensive and challenging. She is now a senior theater major with a concentration in acting. Papa is a junior theater major and music minor.
“What I like about ‘Good People’ is you get a lot of characters thrown into the same play,” said Kennedy, referring to the exploration and portrayals of members of the lower and upper classes.
Her character, Jean, she said is “perfectly content with living in South Boston, practically on the poverty line.” This, she noted, contrasts with the character of Margie, who needs a steady income to provide for her adult daughter.
Papa said her character, Dottie, Margie’s landlady, is all about self-preservation and being able to provide for her own family, which sometimes requires being harsh and forceful. “When it comes to survival, you got to do what you got to do,” Papa said.
Both girls said that URI’s productions tend to reflect what’s happening in the world, something they appreciate, especially as it lends itself to thoughtful analysis and conversation.
“I think that’s why I personally love theater,” said Papa.
“We have a voice here at URI,” added Kennedy, noting they can “be an actor with a conscience.”
This is Kennedy’s third time acting in a URI production; she also was in “Caucasian Chalk Circle” and “Columbinus.” This is Papa’s first time acting; she worked backstage for “As You Like It,” and was the house manager for “Legally Blonde.”
In high school, both girls began working with the Contemporary Theater Company in Wakefield, a connection they continue to maintain.
“[CTC is] where I got my first taste of what a really immersive, in depth theater experience can be like,” said Kennedy, adding: “We’re incredibly fortunate to have such a rich theater scene,” in South County.
“I have to keep myself from auditioning there to keep this space open,” for school productions, said Papa.
While URI’s theater program is more traditional, both girls see the benefits of CTC’s emphasis on improv on their skills and careers. “It’s so much about being confident and making bold choices,” said Papa.
Their shared interest in improv splinters sightly at their favorite CTC offerings: Kennedy enjoys the Guerilla Improv, while Papa is a fan of the Micetro Improv.
At URI, both are taken with the all-encompassing nature of the theater program.
“People want professionals who do theater, not just actors,” said Papa. “[That] makes you a good person to work with.”
It also “makes you humble,” said Kennedy, who noted the people who work backstage, setting up sound and lighting, often under intense time constraints, also work incredibly hard.
After college, both girls hope to continue on in the realm of theater. Kennedy said she would like to go on to graduate school, maybe act with a conservatory abroad, and eventually become a professor. And Papa said she would like to tour with a children’s theater company, at least for a time.
“I never really planned to be an actor, but that seems to be where it’s going,” said Papa. “I hope to always be creative and make art.”