David Lindsay-Abaire, the author of 'Good People', is himself a Southie, an area known for its strong blue collar identity and Irish immigrant origins. Lindsay-Abaire wanted to write about the people he grew up with and dispel some of the myths about racism, gangsters and welfare moms that have proliferated. He also thought that by looking at this community the question of class in America would 'inevitably bubble to the surface".
Directed by Seth Gordon, the Associate Artistic Director at the Rep, the play opens in an alley outside a Dollar store where Margie (Denise Cormier) is in the process of being fired by her young boss Stevie (Aaron Orion Baker) for chronic lateness. She was late on this occasion due to difficulties with her adult child who is, in her words, 'retarded' – there are no euphemisms in Southie – due to a premature birth. Stevie himself is under the gun from his boss to deal with the problem. Living paycheck to paycheck, Margie is faced with eviction by Dottie (Andrea Gallo), who in this tight knit community is also a friend and frequent care giver to Margie's daughter. At the suggestion of her loud mouthed friend Jean (Elizabeth Ann Townsend) and in relentless pursuit of a job she inserts herself back into the life of Mike (R. Ward Duffy) who has 'escaped' Southie and now lives in a tony suburb. She ends up at his home where her stories of Mike's past and questions around the paternity of her child bring chaos into the already strained relationship he has with his wife Kate (Zoey Martinson).
Cormier is excellent throughout the show and creates a believable character that despite all the obstacles, including her own flaws, remains determined, proud and optimistic. She is matched well by Duffy as the highly successful doctor, who wants to believe he has kept true to his origins and not become 'lace curtain Irish' as Margie calls him. Their argument about whether it is luck or choices made that determines who succeeds is not only thought provoking but one of the dramatic highlights of the show. They are both able to handle well the balance between the dramatic and the humorous that should be an important part of the show.
Aaron Baker as Stevie and Zoey Martinson as Mike's wife both produce very convincing performances although Martinson seemed a little reticent in her comedic delivery of some really funny and acerbic one liners. Lindsay-Abaire's writing can be very funny in a style he calls 'dark and inappropriate…laughter in the face of hardship.' Unfortunately, this production does not always successfully bring out the humor, especially in the more obviously comedic scenes set in Southie. Andrea Gallo had some nice moments as Dottie but the timing of those scenes often did not gel and Elizabeth Ann Townsend's performance as the 'mouthy Southie' Jean seemed to me to be almost a caricature.
The scenic design by Kent Dorsey and lighting by Michael Lincoln showed off the technical capability of the theater and its staff with multiple sets ranging from an alley to an office with a spectacular panoramic view of the Boston skyline. The Southie sets were very effective in evoking the feel of the poorer part of the city; the contrasting "rich" areas were less believable. The doctor's office was so big and pretentious it would probably embarrass a CEO of a major bank. I must confess it is a bugbear of mine but I question why it was necessary on a stage that large to build in a second lower level in both the office and living room of the doctor, putting actors in positions that were hard to see and with their backs to the vast majority of the audience.
'Good People' raises some interesting questions about class and poverty in America and the central performances are very good. It is unfortunate that some of the humor of the play is not well developed as it is this 'laughter in the face of hardship' that so helps define communities like Southie.