Good People — Image via parksquaretheatre.org

Good People

Park Square Theatre
Directed by Joel Sass

Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire grew up in South Boston (“Southie”), a traditionally Irish-American, working-class neighborhood that has received more than its share of fictional portrayals (Good Will Hunting, Mystic River, etc.). Apparently finding these renditions of his old neighborhood somewhat lacking, Lindsay-Abaire recently penned Good People, a sometimes subtle, sometimes combative play that attempts to complicate common beliefs about communities like Southie, the people who live there, and the people who leave. Currently playing at Park Square Theatre, Good People takes its audience on a thought-provoking, if sometimes frustrating, journey.

At the beginning of the play, Margie (Virginia S. Burke), a 50-something woman who has lived in Southie her entire life, is fired from her job as a cashier at the local dollar store as a result of her chronic lateness. Margie and her mentally disabled adult daughter, Joyce, are at risk of losing their apartment if Margie does not find another job soon, so her best friend, Jean (Angela Timberman), encourages her to reach out to Mike (James Denton), her high school boyfriend who went off to college, became a doctor, and has recently returned to Boston to build a medical practice. Margie visits Mike’s office and later his home, and her interactions with him and his wife, Kate (Hope Cervantes), constitute the bulk of the play.

Good People — Image via parksquaretheatre.orgWhile much of the dialogue — and the humor — in Good People is focused on the differences between Margie and Mike’s lifestyles, the more intriguing theme that emerges is something they have in common: a deep investment in the myth of the poor kid from the projects who escaped and made good. Over the years, Mike has developed an exaggerated image of his youthful deprivation to reinforce the notion that his success is the result of his own extraordinary talents and hard work. Margie has a more realistic understanding of the reasons (and luck) behind Mike’s upward mobility, but as events progress, we come to realize how important it is to her that someone from Southie was able to get out, get an education, and build a professional career. As much as Margie criticizes Mike for his “lace curtain” sensibilities, she needs his example as a counterweight to horror stories like that of the high school friend who ended up living on the streets and recently died there.

Good People is a talky play, and eventually, one comes to wonder what all the talk really comes to. At the beginning of the play, Mike has money and, with it, some degree of power, and Margie has neither. At the end of the play, despite mostly getting the better of Mike in several episodes of verbal sparring, Margie is still in an extremely precarious situation, and Mike and Kate, though shaken by Margie’s visit, are still basically secure in their position. As frustrating as this is, the play would probably ring false if it turned out any other way, because that would imply that fundamental issues of class privilege could be transcended on a purely individual, personal basis.

Burke gives Margie a nervously energetic edge, almost bouncing on her feet at times, and the fact that she dominates the audience’s attention only enhances one’s awareness of the lack of easy solutions to her character’s circumstances. Ultimately, though providing some notable laughs and some temporary resolutions, Good People leaves its viewers in an unsettled state, and rightfully so.

Photos by Petronella Ytsma

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.