A Few Hours with Good People?
Posted by: Neil Hollands
In David Lindsay-Abaire’s 2011 play Good People, the focus is on Margie Walsh, a South Boston woman with a severely impaired teenage daughter. Margie loses her job at the dollar store in the first scene, mostly for repeatedly showing up late and missing shifts because of her daughter, but also because she can’t stop herself from needling the manager and trying to manipulate herself into a better place than her co-workers. Readers or theatergoers will know instantly that they’ve met a real human being, a character who is smart, tough, funny–a survivor–but also racist, homophobic, and more than a little cruel.
The play follows Margie through kitchen kibitzing with equally tough women which births a plot to approach Mike, Margie’s long-ago high school boyfriend who escaped Southie to become a doctor. Mike doesn’t have a job for her and isn’t much interested in re-connecting with his past, but Margie shames him into inviting her to a party where she supposedly plans to network with other guests in search of employment, but when she meets Mike and his young African-American wife on their elegant home ground, she won’t be able to stop herself from going on the attack against what she sees as the unfairness of their respective fates.
Lindsay-Abaire, who also wrote the 2007 Pulitzer winner Rabbit Hole and Kimberly Akimbo, delivers a first-rate study of class in America, showing the often ridiculous chain of cruel coincidences that keep people mired in poverty, the cost in humanity that such long-term poverty can produce, the problems of trying to escape a rough past, and the blithe misunderstandings that even the most well meaning can carry about the lot of the poor. All of the characters here have rich depth, and Margie Walsh is fascinating, the kind of role that actors dream of playing, a woman with a mouth that leaves both rich and poor trembling in fear of what might drop from it next. Frances McDormand (New York) and Jane Kaczmarek (Los Angeles) have already taken memorable turns in the part.
Good People is a play that should please book groups, full of cruelties, both the kind that are produced by fate and those created by humans, but couched in enough humor to leaven the experience.