(photos by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio)
Written by Scotty Keister
Much is made in David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People of the notion of equality of opportunity; that is, anyone who works hard enough can get ahead in America. Then the rest of the play goes on to flatly disprove it. The average Joe requires not only hard work, but opportunity, brains, connections and even a little luck to get anywhere, especially if one hails from the Southie neighborhood of Boston.
The play opened on Broadway in 2011 and now gets its OC premiere at Chance Theater. It focuses on Margie Walsh, the middle-aged mother of an adult, mentally handicapped
daughter. At the top of the show, Margie loses her job at the local Dollar Store due to her continued tardiness as a result of having to cope with her daughter at home. In Southie, jobs are not easy to come by, especially for women of a certain age. With some prodding from her friend Jean, Margie sets out to find a new job before the rent is due. She is reminded that her old high school flame, Mike, is now an established and respected doctor in town. Jean convinces Margie to ask him for help finding work.
At first resistant, as her past with Mike includes some seriously unresolved issues that aren’t made clear at first, desperation finally drives Margie forward. She pays a visit to Mike’s shiny clean office. They haven’t seen each other for thirty years, since Mike left Boston for college. Margie accuses him of being “lace curtain,”
meaning he’s too good for the poor people of Southie, which Mike bridles at. He still likes to think of himself as a Southie boy. The question becomes, is Mike “good people?” Is he a nice, caring guy? He’s eventually goaded into inviting Margie to the birthday party his wife is throwing for him in the hopes that by mingling with Mike’s professional friends, Margie might be able to connive a job. When informed that due to a sudden illness of Mike’s daughter the party is cancelled, Margie decides to call his bluff and goes anyway. In this affluent Boston suburb, Margie is way out of her comfort zone and in over her head. It turns out she is the only guest, and things get worse. The conversation that ensues between Margie, Mike and his wife Kate turns volcanic and nasty secrets are dragged out that turn the thumb screws on all three.
This is a show built on revealing character. All the real story is backstory. What exactly has happened in the past between Margie and Mike? How much is true, how much is lie? What are the lies we tell ourselves and our best friends so that we can move forward? Can we ever escape our bedraggled past? Every character in the show comes off as abrasive when we first meet them. They are loud, sarcastic, negative, insulting, selfish, and it’s only when the inner warmth and caring finally emerge that we really get to know them.
Amanda Zarr, as Margie, is a knock-out. With a strong Southie accent, Zarr shows us the “nice” Margie of the past who has been hardened by her circumstances into a more bitter version of herself
;. She is trapped in a life with no chance to get ahead, living one month’s rent check at a time. Through Zarr’s performance, we get to see Margie’s true depth and compassion—behind all the anger—which in the end, really defines “good people.” Bridgette Campbell plays a funny, harsh and thoroughly supportive best friend in Jean, the solider you’d want with you in a foxhole. Robert Foran, as Mike, convincingly plays the guy who can act the part of nice guy while secretly being a jerk. Taj Johnson as Mike’s compassionate and wise wife, Kate, is as tough as Margie once the gauntlets are thrown down. The strength of her performance is the perfect balance to Zarr’s Margie.
Strong acting throughout, including Alec Kenney and Karen Webster, and no-nonsense direction by Jocelyn A. Brown that captures all the humor and poignancy of the play without overplaying anything. It’s chock full of laughs and shocking dramatic turns, often back-to-back. Over and over the notion of getting out is debated. What is clear is that Mike’s escape and Margie’s entrapment have left them both with deep scars that will inevitably be revealed. There are awkward moments that can’t be taken back, words that can’t be unsaid, and futures forever changed.
And, again, sometimes you just need a little luck.
A flexible set design by Christopher Scott Murillo, costumes by Bruce Goodrich, and the work of dialect coach Glenda Morgan Brown all hit the right notes. Opening night stirred a rousing standing ovation from the audience and I would anticipate more to come. Good People plays on the Cripe Stage at the Chance, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm through May 20.
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