‘Good People’ very good indeed at Open Book
TRENTON, Mich.–Good People, running right now at Open Book Theatre here, shows how momentary decisions, bad choices, a single night of passion–the moments of life–can impact lives like earthquakes can make buildings fall.
The play, by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Lindsay Abaire, focuses on Margie Walsh (Linda Rabin Hammell) who is a low-wage worker and single mother in South Boston who loses her job as a cashier at a dollar store. We soon find out she barely subsists check to check, and that this is a blow beyond what any middle class person can understand. Her options are limited. Her daughter is mentally challenged, and she has no savings.
One thing that doesn’t quite add up in the preview material for this play is it is described as a “comedy.” While there is some very funny writing spread among Margie, her landlady Dottie (Margaret Gilkes) and her best friend Jean (Jan Cartwright), the play is better described perhaps as a dramedy, for the issues confronting Margie and the shadows of her past and plight of her present aren’t ofyen all that yuck-worthy.
Desperate for some income, Margie pushes her way into the offices of an old friend, Mike (Robert Schorr), who got out of South Boston and made it big as a doctor. Margie tries to draw on the old neighborhood ties and their friendship to see if he can give her a job, or knows anyone who will give her a job. She even offers to do janitorial work.
The two get into an awkward conversation, their two worlds colliding and Mike clearly wanting to hold on to his old Southie ties, but at arms length. Margie, with her heavy Southie accent, is hitting too close to home for him.
Hammell clearly studied the Southie dialect and gets it just right. Beyond that, though, she completely delivers on the tired, beleaguered, world weary, work weary, never-caught-a-break Margie without her portrayal slipping off into being over sentimentalized. Margie has sharp elbows, honed in a rough neighborhood. And she gets great support from Cartright and Gilkes who can spit poison with the best of them while keeping it authentic. Abaire’s dialogue certainly helps. He writes his characters as real and gives them real conversation at terrific cadences.
Schorr as Mike and K Edmonds as his wife are well paired. She is African-American, and a University professor, about as far away from who a white kid from Southie would choose for a wife unless he wanted to put as much distance between him and the old neighborhood as possible. Schorr handles his inner demons (he’s not really a nice guy) extremely well. Edmonds, too, is spot on playing a woman who speaks her mind and who has been dented a few times by her husband’s idea of fidelity. When she seems genuinely more interested in helping Margie than he does, the image of Mike starts to change and his truth open up. Bradley Michael plays Steve, the son of a Southie gal who the girls knew. but he is also the dollar store manager who had to fire Margie.
Director Angie Kane Ferrante does a fine job of getting a lot out of a very talented group of actors who clearly dove into the material and found a lot to work with.
Bottom Line: Good people is one of the most enjoyable plays of the season.