One of America’s favorite success myths – that anybody can succeed if they just try hard enough – is up for discussion in David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People,” playing through Oct. 28 at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre.
From Margaret Walsh’s viewpoint in South Boston, life seems more like a zero-sum game – somebody wins, somebody loses – and she has always been on the losing end.
This day, she’s just been fired from yet another job for chronic tardiness, which is related to this single mom’s need to find care for her adult developmentally disabled daughter Joyce.
Margie (Eva Kaminsky), aka “the mouthy from Southie,” spends much of her leisure time playing bingo with landlady Dottie (Robin Pearson Rose), banquet waitress friend Jean (Carol Halstead), and sometimes former boss Stevie (James McMenamin). Margie depends mostly on Dottie, who works nights and makes cheesy crafts during the day, for Joyce’s care.
Financial desperation sends Margie to visit former Southie classmate Mike (R. Ward Duffy), who has made it out of the projects via medical school and now lives in the leafy Chestnut Hill area. She hopes he might have a job for her.
Mike feigns shock when she implies that he’s gone “lace-curtain” Irish since his escape from Southie, but in fact he is eager to leave that past buried and makes it clear that he has no job for her.
When he lets it slip that his wife is planning a birthday party for him, Margie invites herself. Though he later calls to cancel due to his young daughter’s illness, Margie shows up anyway, certain that the reason for the “cancellation” is that Mike doesn’t want her to come.
Margie’s second-act arrival surprises both Mike and his wife Kate (Nedra McClyde), an African-American literature professor at Boston College. Their daughter is in fact sick, but Kate graciously invites the visitor in and proceeds to serve wine and cheese – much to Mike’s dismay – and the succeeding discussion turns difficult after Kate innocently asks for tales of Mike’s past.
Lindsay-Abaire knows how to create interesting characters, whether likable or not. Margie is Southie tough, a bit racist, quick to blame others and unwilling to take responsibility for her own actions. At the same time, she wants to provide for her family, but past bad choices have made that difficult.
It’s interesting that the major question here, expressed in current political terms, is “Did you build it yourself or did you have help?” Margie just wants Mike to admit that his life illustrates the latter (partly because that may exonerate her from responsibility for her own failure to escape Southie).
Mullins expertly directs a fine ensemble cast, headed by Kaminsky’s Margie, fascinating to watch if not easy to like.
Duffy is excellent as Mike, the gentrified Southie willing to do most anything to keep his rough past from public (or at least Kate’s) knowledge. McClyde’s Kate is charming and eminently watchable, even after she learns some of her husband’s secrets.
McMenamin manages to play the corporate game but at the same time to display real humanity as Margie’s boss Stevie.
Rose and Halstead are amusing to watch as Margie’s gossipy blue-collar buddies.
Bravo to set designer Michael Schweikardt for a malleable set, to Denitsa Bliznakova for the costumes and to techies Chris Rynne and Fitz Patton, for lighting and sound, respectively. All add considerably to the experience.
Are people – specifically, these people – good? Lindsay-Abaire suggests that the answer is yes, at least until they feel they’ve been pushed into a corner.
“Good People” plays through Oct. 28 at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.
Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.
For tickets, call 619-234-5623 or visit HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.