2011 saw the Occupy movement and the beginning of a national discussion of fairness, equality and compensation disparity. How is it we live in this land of “equality” but experience such disproportion? David Lindsay-Abaire’s script, Good People, explores these questions and shows us that neither side is wholly right or wholly wrong. He gives us plenty to discuss but no answers. This is my favorite kind of theater, hot button issues without preachy solutions.
I’m a fan of David Lindsay-Abaire’s. I enjoyed Fuddy Meers and thought Kimberly Akimbo was a great play. And certainly the quarrel between the “haves” and “have nots” is central in our lives and politics today. So I was looking forward to Good People, which opened at The Repertory Theater of St Louis last week. Upon entering the theater you experience an appropriately gritty, bricked façade to represent South Boston (Southie). During the course of the play five different sets, designed by Kent Dorsey, revolve in and out seamlessly. I heard the woman behind me say to her friend during the third scene change, “The sets are always the best part of the plays,” For me, it’s the story and while the sets certainly help to place the story, they shouldn’t be the star.
The story centers on Margie, a Southie with a hardscrabble life. Single mom, mentally challenged adult daughter, endless, mindless, dead-end, minimum wage jobs which she loses over and over again. In the first scene we see her losing the latest. Denise Cormier’s Margie is desperate but maintains a humor throughout that is the spine of her character. There is also solid work by Aaron Orion Baker playing Stevie, the boss who fires her, but who is “good people” in the end.
Cormier does an excellent job with Margie, best in her scenes with R. Ward Duffy and Zoey Martinson where the characters are fully fleshed and most interesting. Duffy plays Mike, also a Southie, who gets out and becomes a doctor earning a “comfortable“ living. Margie goes to Mike to see about employment opportunities and ends up in his beautiful suburban home eating fancy cheese and drinking wine with his gorgeous, much younger wife, Kate (Martinson.) The scene between the three of them in the second act is the most evocative and enjoyable of all the scenes in the play.
The crux of this play is about having choices and advantages. Mike got out of the tough Southie neighborhood and is proud of both his lowly beginnings and his current success brought about by good choices on his part, but Margie reminds him that he had a dad, with a job, who pushed him to succeed. He was “lucky.” Mike maintains he made “good choices”, while Margie did not. This rankles on Margie, who believes she had few choices and the ones she did have were between “bad” and “worse”. They both believe they are “good people” and Lindsay-Abaire’s script travels an exceptional edge that makes us believe it too.
What I missed in this production was the humor. Lindsay-Abaire admits his humor is dark, and often inappropriate, and his scripts require a deft hand with timing. The two actors who were to provide most of the humor, just didn’t have the timing needed, consequently, the first act seems long and winding. It picks up in the second act though, when Cormier, Duffy and Martinson have their encounter. The end leaves us pondering if “nice” equals “good” and if “getting out” means “leaving behind.” The answers are our own.