An abyss divides the worlds of Southie—South Boston’s Lower End, home of generations of working-class whites, many of Irish background, with its adjacent Black communities—and the toney residential suburb of Chestnut Hill. That insuperable class divide is a microcosm of America in 2009, in the wake of the wreckage of George W. Bush’s presidency, just as Barack Obama has begun to try and right the ship of the American economy. Although neither of those presidents is mentioned, the fact is that they need not be.
The story told in Good People is universal, unmoored to time, focusing on the desperate folks left behind, represented chiefly by Margie Walsh, and the one lucky survivor, Dr. Michael Dillon, who with brains and pluck, made it out, never to look back. It’s a story that could be rewritten with but a few place names changed, and applied to almost any great city in class-riven America. If anything, the class divide is even more severe today.
Good People is by David Lindsay-Abaire. It opened on Broadway in March 2011, with Frances McDormand and Tate Donovan in the lead roles, receiving a Tony Award nomination. The author had already achieved renown for writing the book and lyrics for Shrek the Musical, which ran on Broadway from late 2008 to early 2010. Before that, his play Rabbit Hole premiered on Broadway in 2006, featuring Cynthia Nixon, Tyne Daly and John Slattery, earning a Tony nomination for Best Play, and winning the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Such is the pedigree of the author.
Good People centers on Margie (Alison Blanchard), a single mom caring for a grown, severely autistic daughter requiring constant supervision and care. The opening scene has her being fired from her job at the Dollar Store for repeat tardiness, and now she faces eviction. Her buddies at the local church Bingo game suggest that she look up an old fling and ask him for a job. Mike (Scott Facher), the former boyfriend, has become a prominent M.D. specializing in problematic reproductive cases, and now lives in Chestnut Hill with his younger, beautiful Black wife and their daughter. Their volatile exchanges, one in Act 1 and another in Act 2, anchor the drama.
Rabbits play a supportive role in the play, hand-crafted decorative knick-knacks created by Dottie (Mariko Van Kampen), Margie’s landlady, as a way of earning a little pin money at $5 apiece. Needless to say, the animal is associated in the popular mind with fertility.
The “good people” of the title are those who subjectively earn that title by some combination of lineage, class, morals and behavior. But it’s a shape-shifting concept. It is just the ones who make it out of Southie and now support charitable causes with their donations and prestige? Or could it also be these struggling working-class women who’ve never gotten a single break in life—to whom even a schoolmate with a father living at home who checks his kid’s homework looks like privilege?
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Directed by Ann Hearn Tobolowsky, and produced by David Hunt Stafford for Theatre 40, Good People is serious drama with only faint glints of humor (perhaps these moments could have been lit up a but more). Be prepared for a riveting drama that will turn your heard around several times wondering who, indeed, are the good people—if any—in this situation rife with class and racial angles.
The principal roles are for powerhouse actors, and Theatre 40 has two great ones in Alison Blanchard and Scott Facher. The other cast members include Michael Kerr, Suzan Solomon, the aforementioned Mariko Van Kampen, and Charlotte Williams Roberts as Mike’s wife Kate. All are superb. Stafford plays the offstage role of the Bingo caller. (The autistic daughter Joyce, who is so central to Margie’s existence, does not appear, but is heard from the next room.)
Jeff G. Rack’s set design effortlessly moves from the alley behind the Dollar Store to Margie’s apartment to Dr. Dillon’s office to the Bingo hall and the Dillon home. Costume design is by Michèle Young, lighting by Derrick McDaniel, and sound by Nick Foran.
Good People plays through Jan. 9, 2022, on Mon., Weds., Thurs., Fri., and Sat. at 8:00 p.m., and Sun. at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (with no performances between Dec. 22 and Jan. 3). Theatre 40 is located in the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills 90212 on the campus of Beverly Hills High School. Free parking is available in the parking lot beneath the theatre. To access parking, enter through the driveway at the intersection of Durant and Moreno Drives.
For reservations call (310) 364-0535 or go to the theatre website. COVID safety protocols in effect on the day of performance will be observed. As of this writing, masks and vaccinations for audience members are required. Vaccination status will be checked, so have your vax card or digital record with you.
Eric A. Gordon