Manhattan Theatre Club
(Good People Website)
By David Lindsay-Abaire
Lynn Meadow, Artistic Director
Barry Grove, Exec. Producer
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street
Becky Ann Baker, Patrick Carroll
Tate Donovan, Renée Elise Goldsberry
Frances McDormand, Estelle Parsons
Scenic Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: David Zinn
Lighting Design: Pat Collins
Sound Design: Jill BC DuBoff
Dialect Coach: Charlotte Fleck
Casting: David Caparelliotis
Director of Casting: Nancy Piccione
Production Stage Manager: Roy Harris
General Manager: Florie Seery
Assoc. Artistic Director: Mandy Greenfield
Director of Artistic Development: Jerry Patch
Director of Marketing: Debra Waxman-Pilla
Director of Development: Lynne Randall
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 4, 2011
As a transplanted, suburban Bostonian, whose parents and relatives grew up in neighborhoods like Southie (South Boston), I found Good People gripping. It’s not violent, or unsettling, or shocking; it’s fully absorbing and compelling, as an ensemble of characters who did or did not escape South Boston, for reasons of luck, will, or chance, come together for comfort, support, need, or work. I could not take my eyes off these characters, especially Frances McDormand, as Margaret (Margie, pronounced Marghee), who embodied pain and longing, when, in the opening scene, she’s fired from a local job, because she’s always late. Margie has a mentally handicapped daughter, whose mornings consume Margie’s attention, and the father is long forgotten. Stevie (Patrick Carroll), her boss and bridge partner, has an interest in another lady at the store, and Margie suspects there’s a sexual connection to her plight. Margie knew Stevie, way back when, as this is a tight-knit community, but Margie was once again left to fend for herself. Making matters worse was her landlady, Dottie (Estelle Parsons), who makes cheap decorative rabbits to add a few dollars to the week.
Jean (Becky Ann Baker) and Dottie, who round out the bridge games, encourage Margie to look up Mike (Tate Donovan), one of Margie’s old flames, who escaped Southie for Chestnut Hill, and is now a gentrified gynecologist for fancy suburban ladies. Mike might be hiring for his office, so Margie pays a visit. Mike looks like a deer in headlights, as Margie conjures up his roots. She may as well have been a rodent that snuck through the woodwork, for all the welcome she received, but she discovers he’ll be entertaining at home, and she invites herself in spite. Mike’s wife, Kate (Renee Elise Goldsberry), greets Margie to an empty, pristine living room, as the party was cancelled, but Margie’s hell bent on landing work. After all, her daughter is dependent, and her landlady torments her, bridge game or no bridge game. Accusations, threats, vulgarities, and hurt feelings ensue, but suburbia, placid as it is, was on Margie’s side, as Kate was won over and offered support. Mike, on the other hand, related to Margie with instinctive disgust, his defense mechanisms at work.
Ms. McDormand was perfectly fine tuned as the tightly wound, vulnerable Margie, sometimes suppressing shame, sometimes flouting tenacity. Her eyes darted about, seeking opportunities, begging for esteem. When she knew the odds were against her, her veins and muscles tightened, fighting with herself to carry on or give in. But, when she tossed one-liners in this play, woven with dry wit, the audience collectively breathed in relief. Ms. Goldsberry, as Kate, empathizes with and soothes the embarrassed intruder, with tones reserved for charitable causes. Mr. Donovan, as Mike, masterfully suppresses his seething rage, then explodes in agitation as his figurative firewall crumbles. Ms. Parsons, as Dottie, is endearing and hilarious, adding welcome levity to the angst. Ms. Baker, as Jean, too, is crisply wry, but she has a way of digging through human exteriors like the jackhammers outside. Mr. Carroll, as Stevie, is the least drawn out in this ensemble, but he’s exceptionally fine as the conflicted boss and friend.
John Lee Beatty’s contrasting sets in Southie and Chestnut Hill, in a seedy alleyway and cluttered kitchen, or a spartan doctor’s office and plush living room, are designed with an eye for detail. David Zinn’s costumes, as well, immediately make a statement when Margie and Kate are together in close quarters. Sound and lighting weave the scenes with warm compassion or cold isolation. I find fault with the dialect coach, as I know well the downtown Boston accents. This ensemble was faultless in so many ways, but enunciation is key to authenticity of locale. Kudos to David Lindsay-Abaire.
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