As much as a specific sense of place takes hold in David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People,” the play’s greatness lies in how it could happen anywhere.
Set mostly in Boston’s blue-collar “Southie” neighborhood, the 2011 Tony-nominated drama revolves around the ideas of class, opportunity, luck and sacrifice. How does someone get out of a neighborhood that locks down its inhabitants through an insular tribal mentality?
In this taut new Capital Stage production directed by Stephanie Gularte, Lindsay-Abaire’s deft plotting meshes with three outstanding lead performances and a strong ensemble cast for an engaging, thought-provoking performance.
Lindsay-Abaire’s story follows the downward spiraling fortunes of a lifelong Southie, Margie (pronounced with a hard “g”), who works as a cashier at the Dollar Store. Pushing her late 30s, Margie gets fired in the opening scene for being serially late to her job.
In Rebecca Dines’ steely clear performance, Margie’s not the easiest person to be around. She doesn’t expect any breaks in life because she’s never received any; her view is life is hard because that’s how it has always been. Margie’s jokes are biting observations reflecting her bleak existence. Most of the people in Margie’s orbit share her outlook and experience. It’s a Southie thing.
Margie’s late to work because her developmentally disabled adult daughter, Joyce, needs constant supervision. Dottie, her coldly pragmatic upstairs neighbor and landlady (Linda Montalvo), comes down to watch Joyce, but Margie can’t pay her much, so Dottie’s not entirely reliable or conscientious about it.
Early details grow in importance and the drama deepens when Margie asks her old South Boston neighbor and boyfriend, Mike, for a job. Mike, one of the few who left the old neighborhood, has a successful career as a doctor. He and his young wife live in the tony Chestnut Hill district, which might as well be on another planet, though it’s just a few miles from where he grew up.
James Hiser’s tense and edgy Mike strikes a chord as someone who knows exactly where he’s come from, and it’s a place he’s happy to have left behind. There’s a sense that Mike works hard at controlling his responses.
This makes him the opposite of Margie, with her thinly veiled innuendos and sneering contempt of others. When Margie barges into Mike’s office, he knows nothing good can come of it. But in her gritty desperation, Margie masterfully plays his old-neighborhood loyalty and bravado into a social invitation.
Mike’s wife, Kate, is not only younger than him, but she’s also black. Given Southie’s history of racial intolerance, their marriage shows how much he’s distanced himself from his roots. ZZ Moor gives a smart, even turn as Kate, who’s clearly outside the South Boston milieu and solidly in the educated, upper-class world she and Mike comfortably inhabit.
Lori Russo as Margie’s tenacious friend Jean and Brandon Lancaster as sympathetic store manager Stevie also supply fine performances.
Margie brings it all explosively together when she unexpectedly shows up at Mike and Kate’s home, where wine and cheese become symbols of class warfare.
Was Mike lucky to escape Southie, or did he want out more than others? Did he earn his way out or did something else open a door for him? Lindsay-Abaire, whose 2007 drama “Rabbit Hole” won the Pulitzer Prize, weaves those questions along with sharp plot reversals into a fascinating tapestry of culture, survival and success.
Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.