Really bad wallpaper hung in Margie’s kitchen. It might as well been the kind your grandma had. Dated decor lines the room, things look like they haven’t changed for an entire generation. Margie (Lauran Gordon) sits with some old gal pals, Dottie (Laura Fisher) and Jean (Tami Workentin), volleying old stories about characters that have come in gone in their South Boston neighborhood.
Margie occasionally breaks-off, holding her chin-level, periodically stressing over how she can’t make ends meet after loosing her cashier job. What of her developmentally disable daughter? How will they ever manage. Her landlord Dottie sits right next to her, glasses low on her nose, sipping coffee. It doesn’t matter. They’ve known each other for years, so why bother with appearances. The three carry-on, partly determined, partly resigned, partly pitiful, and partly proud, conjuring up futile options to prop-up Margie’s livelihood.
This leads them to the High School basement bingo hall, where they sit with the store assistant manager, Stevie (Bernard Balbot), that fired Margie, who happens to be the son of one of their old friends. A scheme instigated by Jean, Margie reluctantly goes on a quest to track down an old flame that word has it has, made it out of Southie. After stretching her wits thin and still finding no work, Margie benefits from a kind gesture that keeps the lights on, if only just enough to buy time until she finds her next gig.
Kate Buckley succeeds wonderfully in using David-Lindsay-Abaire’s story Good People to stage intimate portraits of life where the nickles rub together. Much of the intrigue in this play, stems from Buckley’s ability to use subtle decisions such as choice of scenery, to draw out the extreme contrast between working-poor and affluent Bostonians. Scenic Designer Kevin Depinet, masterfully presents the South Boston and Chestnut Hill settings where the drama unfolds.
Scenes set in South Boston might leave you to believe the play is set in the 1960’s, however Chestnut Hill’s contemporary appearance returns the audience to the present day. Here a great tension reverberates through the characters. We see Margie running circles around herself in almost every action, insisting that she might wittingly betroth herself to her Southie roots. In comparison, we see the vapor trails of her old classmate’s exit trajectory that mark his manner in interacting in his new found success.
Good People’s narrative comes at a very timely point in American cultural discourse. In the new millennium, we have seen the mainstream cultural understanding as expressed through most common forms of media production, back pedal decades in its ability to present realistic and critical reflections on the American experience and its people.
In this rare occasion, Lindsay-Abaire’s dramatic narrative provides a ground-level view of stereotypes being turned on their head. The mainstream media loathes the idea of acknowledging that impoverished and working poor white communities exist in areas North of the Mason-Dixon line, who are not noble, long-suffering or in possession of Middleclass sensibilities. How the color lines that historically pervade American life are understood, make another ripe battleground for Lindsay-Abaire to march upon.
In Good People we see the introduction of affluent African-American characters that have dynamic social barrings. The limitations of including all social perspectives in a commentary play are seen and handled well, as Good People offers focused and developed characters instead of attempting address every societal nuance with broad strokes relying on the well-trodded themes of oppression and injustice.
Michael Elich (Mike) and Jennifer Latimore (Kate) complete the ensemble with truly enjoyable performances, drawing the audiences deeper into the story with their engaging acceptance of challenging stage roles. Production credits adding to the general delight of this play go to Rachel Healy (Costume Design), Jason Fassl (Lighting Designer), and Joe Cerqua (Original composition, Sound Design).
Good People continues its run at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater through February 15, 2015.