Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing a few people from the area of South Boston known as Southies. To a one, they have fit the Southie stereotype: No-nonsense, hard working, loud, proud and — sometimes — rude and crude. Most were Irish, and one even sported shamrock and Sinn Fein tattoos, a form of warpaint perfectly suited to hard drinking and the occasional bar fight.
Being that far removed from Boulder’s genteel, hippie-centric college-town culture, Southie — or at least its people — is an experience I would recommend. But since a trip to Boston isn’t something many are likely to take just on my say, watching a performance of Good People is probably the next best thing. Despite what it gets wrong, it gets the Southie part right.
An overwrought dramedy filled with desperate, struggling characters, Good People hits all the Southie high and low points. In the back alley behind the dollar store, Margaret (Dee Covington), who is almost universally referred to as Margie, loses her cashiering job due to perennial tardiness (or “tahdiness” in the Boston accent). Her boss, Stevie (John Jurcheck), doesn’t want to let her go, but his hands are tied by unsympathetic upper management.
Margie isn’t a drug addict or careless youngster unappreciative of her job. She is a middle-aged, single mother of a disabled child whose inability to find reliable child care led directly to her firing. She pleads with Stevie, invoking generations of neighborhood stories about him and his family. She offers to take a pay cut. When it becomes clear that his decision is final, she lashes out, questioning his sexuality and tossing casually racist jabs at his girlfriend.
Relating her ordeal to her landlady Dottie (Kathryn Gray) and best friend Jean (Leslie O’Carroll) over coffee in her kitchenette, Margie wonders how she will be able to pay her rent. As a high school dropout with a limited skill set, her employment options are meager. Jean suggests that Margie hit up her old flame, Mike (Michael McNeil), a local boy made good who is now a wellto-do doctor.
Margie takes Jean’s advice, and in a series of scenes she alternately wheedles and needles Mike. At first she’s just looking for a job offer from Mike or one of his acquaintances, but soon Margie embarks upon the most tortured and, ultimately, nonsensical and fruitless series of plot contrivances this side of Plan 9 from Outer Space. This is where Good People becomes a little bit frustrating.
David Lindsay-Abair is a Pulitzer Prize-winner. He obviously knows his way around plot and characters.
But he is also a human being, one from Southie, no less, and Good People’s second act feels more like theatrical therapy than it does a work focused on being all it could be. The play seems to exist primarily to allow its playwright to work through his survivor guilt at not only getting out of Southie but becoming a highly successful and — presumably — wealthy playwright/screenwriter/lyricist.
Mike, the lace-curtain Irish success story, is obviously a simulacrum for Lindsay-Abair. Margie, Jean, Dottie and Stevie are standins for all the Southie-folk he left behind. After starting off strong, Good People succumbs to the fact that it is more psychotherapy session than work of art, and that is a shame. If Lindsay-Abair had been more focused on storytelling and less on his own psychological catharsis, what ends up being a passable script could have been a great one.
In spite of this inherent flaw, the Curious Theatre Company mounts a laudable production of Good People. The acting is outstanding across the board, and the set, which transforms from a decrepit hodgepodge of linoleum tiles, chain link fencing, corrugated metal, old shutters and the like into the posh living room of Dr. Mike and back, is remarkable. All praise to the actors and to Scenic Designer Caitlin Ayer.