“Good People,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Lindsay-Abaire, opened last night at Performance Network Theatre – a mere two years after its Broadway debut. This is a funny and moving play – we’re not sure if it’s a dark comedy or a hilarious drama – but the fact that it defies easy categorization tells you it’s worth seeing for yourself.
Set in Boston’s predominantly Irish Catholic “Southie” district in 2009, this play takes its name from the simple phrase people use to sort each other out. You might be a shop-lifter and an alcoholic, or a doctor with a fancy car, but if you remember where you came from and who your friends are, you’re “good people.” If, however, you make it out of Southie, distance yourself from your old friends, and adopt the pretentious airs of the elite, you are “lace curtain.”
Single mom Margie Walsh (the incomparable Suzi Regan) is good people. Her friends say she’s “too nice.” And she’s struggling. In the opening scene, she is fired from her job at the Dollar Store by her late best friend’s son. Margie has been late too many times. Mostly because she has to wait for someone to stay with her "retarded" (Margie's words) adult daughter. Sometimes, because she’s sick, doesn’t have insurance and can’t afford a doctor. Those are the breaks.
But something Margie has an abundance of is moxie, especially after a few friends and sheer desperation goad her into action. She reaches out to a high school “summer fling” who left the neighborhood to become a doctor, hoping he can help her land a job. They haven’t met in thirty years, but she remembers Mike (Alex Leydenfrost) as being good people. But after she awkwardly confronts him in his office, she teases him about being “lace curtain” – and that strikes a nerve.
Margie ends up inviting herself to a chic cocktail party being thrown by Mike’s elegant young wife at their lavish home. After stirring up a Boston blizzard of awkward moments, Margie reveals some secrets she’s kept to herself for thirty years. And this leads to the bigger dilemma. Will Margie leverage what she knows to help her and her retarded daughter survive? Or are the habits of “good people” too deeply ingrained?
This PNT production is directed by Artistic Director David Wolber, who is always so stalwart in clearing a path to a play’s true meaning. His cast is wonderful and their dialog is perfect. One of the tricks that makes this script so funny – and Wolber’s cast gets it – is their way of tossing out frank, horribly judgmental pronouncements without an ounce of self-reflection. No well-bred politically correct person would do that. But in south Boston, it’s all good.
Suzi Regan is wonderful as Margie in all her most pathetic and triumphant moments. She is a ball-buster without knowing it, someone shaped by a hard reality, shorn of her dignity, but holding on to a last simple sense of what good people do.
Alex Leydenfrost does a wonderful job getting into the head of someone who takes a bit of pride in his “Southie” upbringing, if only to prove the distance he’s traveled in making it to the world of catered house parties that serve a variety of unpronounceable cheeses. We can forgive his success. But some things are unpardonable.
Everyone in this cast has their moments. Ruth Crawford, MaryJo Cuppone and Logan Ricket are the characters who people Margie’s “Southie” world – from morning coffee and gossip, to weekend bingo in the church basement.
Qamara “Peaches” Black plays Doctor Mike’s young wife – a woman from a more privileged background, but one who empathizes with Margie’s plight as a mother.
The production itself is spectacular. And let me say, as a person of Irish-American descent, that the walk-in music is a treat. (A good lead-in to St. Patrick’s Day). And the bingo-calling was perfect. A salute to Carla Milarch as sound designer.
The set design by Daniel C. Walker is a delightful gift that opens itself. A flat, colorfully painted city scape of south Boston spans the stage area. As the play progresses, panels slide away and entire set pieces swing out to reveal the various locations – Margie’s kitchen, Mike’s office, the bingo parlor, Mike’s home. It’s marvelous.
Costume designer Christa Koerner, Props Designer Stefanie Din, Assistant Stage Manager Liz Picurro and Technical Director Edward Weingart all support David Wolber in bringing the world of south Boston into sharp focus.
“Good People” runs through March 31st with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays, at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and a matinee at 2:00 on Sundays. Tickets can be ordered at the Performance Network Box Office at 734-663-0681, online, or at the Performance Network Theatre (120 East Huron St., Ann Arbor, 48104) Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., or one hour before a performance. Tickets are $22 - $41, with discounts available for seniors, members, students and groups.