After presenting a couple of light-hearted musicals earlier this season – Jersey Boys and Sweet Charity – the Maltz Jupiter Theater kicks off the second half of its production year with a hard-hitting drama, David Lindsay-Abaire’s gritty, Tony Award-nominated play, Good People.
It’s a kind of rags and riches tale, set in Lindsay-Abaire’s tough native South Boston where decisions – appropriate and inappropriate — can make all the difference between continuing to exist on the mean streets of Southie or “escaping,” as one character puts it, to a world where life is lush and prosperous.
Good People explores the American working-class experience, examining the choices we make and how they shape our lives. The play shines a spotlight – sometimes radiant, sometimes sordid – on the everyday struggles and hopes of ordinary folk just trying to survive.
From left, Anne Bates, Kim Cozort Kay, Delphi Harrington and Sean William Davis in Good People at the Maltz Jupiter Theater. (Jason Nuttle Photography)
The Manhattan production of Good People was nominated for two Tony Awards in 2011 – Best Play and Best Leading Actress in a Play (Frances McDormand.) Ms. McDormand walked off with that prize.
This compelling drama – which mixes in occasional comic moments — tells the story of lifelong South Boston resident Margie Walsh (excellently portrayed by Anne Bates), a hardworking single mother who finds herself out of a job with bills piling up. When her old high school flame – now a successful doctor — throws a party for his affluent friends, Margie gets an invite, hoping someone there will offer a job. What ensues is an emotional confrontation about choices and their consequences.
Director Jerry Dixon has populated Good People with … well, a lot of good people – talented, well-heeled actors who not only adhere to the rapid pace of the two-hour play with one intermission, but deliver South Boston accepts with aplomb.
We first meet Walsh in the rear of a crummy, graffiti-marred dollar store where she is being fired for tardiness. A single mother who knows that she and her special needs adult daughter Joyce “are only a single paycheck away from desperate straits,” she tries hard to hang on to her employment. Stevie (Sean William Davis), the store manager who is also a Southie, manages to keep his budding sympathy for her condition from oozing out, but sticks to his demand that she be canned. “I have to fire you, or they’ll fire me,” he admits.
Back at her apartment, Margie and her Southie BFFs, Dottie (Delphi Harrington) and Jean (Kim Cozort Kay) rehash the day – a bad one. Jean tells her she recently ran into Mike (Joe Cassidy), Margie’s fling from “the old days.” Mike made his way out of the sorry neighborhood by going to college and now he’s a physician in the affluent Boston suburb of Chestnut Hill.
From left, Tracee Beazer, Joe Cassidy and Anne Bates in Good People at the Maltz Jupiter Theater. Jason Nuttle Photography)
Facing eviction and scrambling to find employment in a practically jobless environment, Walsh visits Mike at his posh office. He says he has no job for her, but she presses him – causing some of his old Southie anger to resurface. He’s particularly miffed by her reference to his newly adopted “lace curtain” ways that clash with his Southie roots.
After a vicious verbal exchange, Margie shames Mike into inviting her (somewhat reluctantly) to a birthday party at his Chestnut Hill home. Margie hopes someone at the party will offer her a job.
Still, Margie is suspicious that the invite is fake. And when she gets a call from Mike saying the party is canceled because his daughter is sick, she assumes he’s embarrassed to have her mix with his hoity-toity doctor friends. She decides to go to the house anyway, with the intent of crashing the party.
Wrong decision. The party is truly off. Mike’s wife, Kate (Tracee Beazer) welcomes the visitor – clearly upsetting Mike, whose body language speaks volumes. As Margie starts talking about “their good old Southie days,” she starts bringing up verboten issues. She tells how Mike almost beat a Black man to death. She claims Mike is her old boyfriend and fathered her handicapped daughter.
Mike goes wild, and actually lunges at Margie. Kate is also enraged by the accusation and berates Margie, who finally leaves, having accomplished nothing positive.
The play quickly moves to its conclusion – which takes place at a church bingo game, an event that crops up several times. The finale includes a sweet, positive twist – something missing in much of this grim drama.
Dixon, an award-winning director, actor and writer, helms a show that pushes the emotional envelope, opening old wounds and firing up tempers that have long been under control. Bates, making her Maltz Jupiter Theatre debut as Margie, fulfills her role with verve and fire. Her character is poorly educated but is street-smart – though her capacity to make appropriate decisions is questionable.
Joe Cassidy and Anne Bates in Good People at the Maltz Jupiter Theater. (Jason Nuttle Photography)