As in Wonder of the World and Rabbit Hole, previous works of David Lindsay-Abaire, the playwright is not afraid to go to extremes to make a point. World is exceedingly comedic, Hole far more serious, but both have characters who find their way via a path less tread. Such is also the case with his dramedy Good People. Southie Margie (Jane Kaczmarek) makes a choice to pay an unusual visit to her 'lace curtain' former boyfriend, Mike (Jon Tenney), now a successful doctor in the suburbs. She finds that as polite as he is, he wants little to do with her, yet insists on practically inviting herself to his posh home for a party, and when he calls to cancel, she shows up anyway. Talk about guts! Southies - from South Boston - have them in spades, as we can see from her two gossipy chums landlady Dottie (Marylouise Burke) and Jean (Sara Botsford), who trash just about anyone and everyone as they hang out playing bingo. Now onstage at the Geffen, Good People gets a deservedly stunning production with great direction from Matt Shakman and a sterling ensemble.
Beware of attempting to capture what once was, but no longer remains, a possibility. Sound advice! Why go where you clearly do not belong, hoping to come out a winner? To hurt those involved? To get some kind of temporary vengeful satisfaction? Does one ever imagine the humiliation that will result? Margie's been fired, has a grown retarded daughter and is in desperate straits. She needs work, but rather than pursue ordinary means, she forces her way into an exclusive situation, an action that will inevitably lead to disastrous results. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and so in rushes Margie to the horror of Mike, who, despite his much earned success/comfortable living arrangements, is hardly blameless, or good people, as Margie had previously described him. He's used to lying to get ahead; she is not. Fearless, ferocious behavior is exhibited by Jean, Dottie, Mike and then Margie - and of course, since Abaire was a Southie himself, who knows this world better than he? As a playwright, he accurately depicts these people down to the tiniest detail: accents, opinions, gestures...every move is significantly on target. When Mike takes the toy rabbit and throws it violently against the wall, this is hardly good people or when he openly dismisses his wife's (Cherise Boothe) suggestion that Margie come and babysit their daughter, for the wrong reasons, we see where his loyalty does, or rather does not lie. But, it's the kind of behavior that everyone encounters among friends and associates - South Boston or not. That doesn't necessarily make it right, but that's the way life is, the way things are, and life is pretty tough for all concerned. Then there's Stevie (Brad Fleischer), who does what he has to do, gets a bum wrap for no apparent reason from the town gossips, yet ends up doing an unexpectedly good deed. Go figure! Abaire's optimism in the light of all round despair is priceless, as is his clear understanding of people's sensibilities.
The cast is fabulous. Kaczmarek nails Margie down to her toes without a false move. Tenney makes Mike as likable as you can make a guy with a glass veneer, whose obvious hypocrisy shows right through. Burke and Botsford are thoroughly believable as well as hilarious as Dottie and Jean. Boothe is genuine and caring as Kate, who must pay for stretching herself too far, and Fleischer makes Stevie a 'mystery' man. Shakman's direction is impeccable and Craig Siebels' multiple sets hit the mark.
Good People is so well written and executed! It has the very best of both worlds: it makes us painfully aware of our faults as it entertains the hell out of us. Great theatre!