REVIEW // ‘Good People’ isn’t just about Southie
Geva’s latest production highlights important socioeconomic topics
There’s an oft-quoted phrase in the theatrical world—credited to Oscar Wilde—which says, “I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being."
That sentiment, perhaps, is the most succinct way to describe Geva Theatre Center’s current Mainstage production, David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People, which opened last weekend.
Good People is a drama set in South Boston—or Southie, as the locals call it—a location that is particularly familiar to fans of Ben Affleck films or Revolutionary War history buffs. In addition to its strong working class Irish-American identity, Southie contains Dorchester Heights, the highest geographical area in the neighborhood and the site where the British army was forced to evacuate Boston in March 1776.
Southie is also home to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire (who also wrote Fuddy Meers and Rabbit Hole), which makes the Good People version of the borough all the more striking and honest.
The plot follows Margie (hard ‘g,’ like margarita, played by the powerful Constance Macy), who is knee-deep in controversy as soon as the stage lights come up on Jo Winiarski’s brilliantly rotating set. (Here, the set depicts the back alley of a dollar store, but fluidly rotates throughout the show to reflect row houses, a doctor’s office, a church hall, and an elegant upper class home.) Margie’s been late to work for nearly two months, and her boss (Nick Abeel) is forced to let her go.
Through the encouragement of her friends, the oddly likeable Dottie (Peggy Cosgrave) and the sharp-tongued Jean (Dee Pelletier), fifty-something Margie reconnects with a high school flame, Mike (Sean Patrick Reilly), who has recently returned to Boston as a successful fertility doctor. ‘Mikey’ may be ‘lace curtain’ now—as the Southies refer to anyone who achieves upward social mobility—but Margie isn’t afraid to ask for help finding work. Through several bait-and-switch situations, Margie eventually ends up in Mike’s home, where she meets his wife, Kate (Nicole Lewis), and both Margie and Mike must come to terms with their past.
Under Mark Cuddy’s expert direction, the show moves at such a smooth pace that it’s a surprise when the house lights come on for intermission. Has that much time even passed? The cast, likewise, is impeccably talented—a group of actors so united and believable that the audience doesn’t dare imagine them as anyone but these characters.
Good People undertakes the age-old question of the American Dream: is it available to everyone who works hard? Lindsay-Abaire offers a poignant character study through both Margie (a woman who worked hard, didn’t finish her education, and never left) and Mike (a man who worked hard, finished his education, left, and returned to give back).
While audience members will be split on the play’s true “hero,” there are a multitude of issues to unpack in the plot, from socioeconomic status and nature versus nurture to feminism and the true meaning of hard work. Through these issues, and the emotional whirlwind that is Margie’s character, Good People is riveting from beginning to end—and offers some very timely conversation starters for post-show drinks.
October 21 – November 16
gevatheatre.org or 232-4382
Leah Stacy is the editor-in-chief of (585) magazine and a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.
*Photo by Ken Huth