Thursday, September 20, 2012

‘Good People': A Southie you’ll want to visit

BOSTON -- You don’t have to have born down on A Street or raised down on B Street to enjoy the Huntington Theatre’s production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People.”
The native of South Boston has crafted an enormously entertaining, funny and, at times provocative look at the denizens of his old neighborhoods, their foibles and their failed dreams.
Single mother Margie (with a hard “g”), played by Johanna Day, has lost the latest in a series of dead-end jobs, despite invoking the memory of his mother in her desperate pleas to her boss Stevie (Nick Westrate).

 Nancy E. Carroll, Karen MacDonald, and Johanna Day in the Huntington
    Theatre Company's production of David Lindsay-Abaire's GOOD PEOPLE.
Sept. 14 - Oct. 14, 2012. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
 That’s not good news for her landlord and neighbor, Dottie, (Nancy E. Carroll) who has side jobs baby-sitting Margie’s handicapped daughter and creating bizarre arts and crafts.
Margie commiserates with Dottie and their long-time friend, sharp-tongued Jean (Karen McDonald) about their situation. Trickle-down economics have not quite trickled down to the trio, their family and friends; almost everyone else they know is struggling, either having no job or having just lost a job.
The scenes with the three women at the bingo hall or in Margie’s apartment are pure gold. With razor-sharp dialogue and stinging one-liners expertly delivered by two excellent actresses, Margie becomes like a ping pong ball being batted back and forth between Carroll and McDonald.
Day, excellent in Huntington’s “God of Carnage” last season, is a complicated, fascinating mess as Margie. She has been scarred by, first, her father having walked out on his family and then her husband Gobi doing the same, leaving her and her daughter to fend for themselves in a continuous fight for survival.
When Jean tells Margie she has run into Margie’s old boyfriend at a Boys Club function, Margie’s interest is piqued, especially so when she learns that Mike (Michael Laurence) is a doctor with a thriving suburban practice.
Margie assumes that despite the 30 years away from the neighborhood, he is still what Southie would call “good people,” the kind of person who would never turn his back on a struggling single mother with a handicapped daughter.
She goes to visit him at his upscale suburban practice and pleads for a job, even one cleaning his office.
Margie eventually taunts him for becoming “lace-curtain” Irish -- aka “two-toilet Irish” --- and accuses him of abandoning his South Boston roots. Sensing his guilt, she baits him into inviting her to his birthday party at his Chestnut Hill home, where she hopes to find someone who will offer her work.
When Margie receives a call form Mike telling her the party is cancelled, Margie suspects Mike or his wife has rejected her, and decides she will show up for the party, anyway.

Michael Laurence, Rachael Holmes and Johanna Day in the Huntington
Theatre Company's GOOD PEOPLE. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
 Oops. The party is off and Mike’s wife Kate (Rachael Holmes) mistakes Margie for an employee of the caterer who has come to retrieve his things after the canecellation. She apologizes, but the carnage is about to begin amid fine wine, gourmet cheeses, and Margie’s accusations that when Mike left the projects, he left his soul behind.
When Mike refuses to consider Margie as even a baby-sitter for his daughter, she wreaks vengeance on the couple, in a way both humorous and horrifying at the same time.
Lindsay-Abaire leaves us to ponder a thought: Is it hard work and responsible parenting, or perhaps blind luck and someone’s else’s kind act, that can mean the difference between fighting your way out of the projects or becoming just another Margie.
Director Kate Whoriskey neatly balances the humor and the angst of the piece and coaxes uniformly strong performances from the cast.
Gifted set designer Alexander Dodge has crafted two remarkable sets, the first a warehouse/type background with slide-in sets and, in the second act, the magnificently-appointed living room of a posh Chestnut Hill home.
While Lindsay-Abaire is the first to admit that the South Boston that he knew growing up may not exist anymore, some of the old Southie themes he embraces in “Good People" -- such as “Southie takes care of its own” -- are still alive and well.
Even if you’ve never tasted the clam rolls at Sully’s or run the Sugar Bowl, Lindsay-Abaire’s Southie is a place you’ll want to visit.
The Huntington Theatre Company‘s production of “Good People,” by David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed by Kate Whoriskey. At the BU Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue, Boston through Oct. 14.