Although David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People is not as gut-wrenching as his Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole, which deals with a couple mourning the death of their four-year-old child, this play about resentment, success, and poverty still offers plenty of heartbreak to go around.
The story centers on Margie (Erin Wilson), a middle-aged working-class woman who has lived her whole life in one of Boston’s rougher neighborhoods, Southie. Margie has an adult daughter who is mentally challenged and can’t be left alone, and finding someone to care for her has cost Margie most of the jobs she’s held as an adult. As the play opens, she’s fired once again, this time from her position as a cashier at a dollar store. At the urging of her two friends (Cristy Landis and Cynthia Barnett), Margie looks up an old boyfriend from Southie who is now a successful doctor, Mike (R.W. Smith). After an uncomfortable meeting, Margie finagles an invitation to a party that Mike’s wife Kate (Brittani H. Minnieweather) is throwing for him, hoping that someone at the gathering will be able to offer her a job.
Blue-collar Boston isn’t the easiest realm to enter as an actor, and at first there were a few struggles with accents or body language as the cast seemed to settle in to their characters. Wilson really hit her stride as Margie in the second half of the first act, when Margie goes to see Mike at his office. It was in this scene that Wilson nailed the balance of pride, desperation, and resignation that makes Margie who she is, and Wilson continued to grow into her character as the story continued.
Landis and Barnett offered many much-needed comic moments, especially at the bingo table where the two go with Margie to pass the time. Landis, in particular, was so in character as the tough, almost cutthroat Jean that watching her move the props during scene change was a little intimidating. Brannen Daugherty as Margie’s ex-boss Stevie was quiet and kind; by the end of the play, he’d made a convincing case for Stevie being the only truly good person in the bunch.
The second act, which takes place almost entirely at Mike and Kate’s house with only the couple and Margie on stage, is bursting with dark emotions and darker secrets. Smith deserves extra recognition for his role as the insecure, guilty Mike. Mike is a deeply complex character whose at first muddy motives become clearer — and less noble — as the story progresses. Smith gave the audience an incredible portrayal of this conflicted, wounded man who still has trouble reconciling his origins as a working class boy with his present success. Minnieweather, too, gave an excellent performance as Mike’s young, vulnerable, and guileless wife Kate. Most notably, she managed to maintain Kate’s presence in scenes with Margie and Mike where, due to the intensity of what’s happening between the other two, she could easily have been forgotten.
Good People is the kind of play that can stick with a person for days. Congrats to the PURE cast for making sure that it does.