People aren’t always who they seem to be. A gruff exterior can camouflage vulnerability. Intensity and anxiety can be off-putting to those who don’t recognize or sympathize with the underlying causes of secrets and pain.
So it is with gruff Margie (Alison Blanchard), the lead character in Good People, now playing at Theatre 40. Margie comes across as difficult, in part because she’s trapped in Southie, the Irish-American neighborhood of South Boston where she grew up. She has an intellectually disabled adult daughter, Joyce, and insufficient income to pay for her care.
When we meet Margie, she’s being fired from her low-paying job for chronic lateness. Her supervisor Stevie (Michael Kerr), whom she’s known since he was a child, is apologetic but firm: in this difficult environment, he has his own livelihood to consider.
Margie relies on the kindness of lifelong friends and neighbors to stay with her daughter without compensation. Her landlord Dottie (Mariko Van Kampen) enlists Joyce to help her make googly-eyed rabbits out of Dollar Store elements. Her friend Jean (Suzan Solomon), frustrated at Margie’s situation, stirs her up and convinces her to go to a party thrown by her high school friend (and summer boyfriend) Mike (Scott Facher).
Mike, now a doctor, made it out of Southie. Goaded by Jean, Margie visits him in his office and during a tense encounter, he reluctantly invites her to a party at his house. She hopes to find a job with one of his guests; he seems incapable of saying no to his past.
Mike’s wife Kate (Charlotte Williams Roberts) is kind and welcoming to Margie, and makes it her mission to help. In return, she wants to know secrets about her husband, whose stories don’t quite ring true to her. Margie certainly knows some of Mike’s secrets, and despite her resentment and brashness, at first resists sharing them. Is what this bruised and angry woman does reveal true?
The opening of David Lindsay-Abaire’s 2011 play (Frances McDormand won a Tony playing Margie) was delayed due to facility issues, but the show is worth waiting for. The story has some inconsistencies, and a couple of first-act scenes run too long. Complicated set changes between scenes take time. But director Ann Hearn Tobolowsky lets the terrific cast shine. They inhabit their roles with gusto, right down to their South Boston accents. The second act is a tightwire act that has a lot to teach about the meaning of home, the responsibility we must take for each other and what it really means to be good people.
Good People is a little over two hours, including intermission. It runs through January 9 at Theatre 40 on the campus of Beverly Hills High School. Show times are Mondays and Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 2:00 and 7:00pm. The theater is dark Dec. 21-Jan. 4. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased here. Parking is free and the theater is accessed through the parking lot.