Good People | 01.02-22.12

gp200Good People is a play which tests both comfort and empathy, often leaving both depleted.

 

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“Good People” plays on The Rep’s Mainstage January 2-27, 2013. Featuring (L to R): Zoey Martinson as Kate and Denise Cormier as Margaret. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Good People, a play by David Lindsay-Abaire, directed by Seth Gordon, and playing at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, left me feeling depleted by the time I left the theater. It was both a test of comfort and empathy.

As the play opens, Margaret (Denise Cormier) has just lost her job as a cashier at the Family Dollar. It is the next in a long line of jobs she has lost due to a variety of setbacks in her life. She is in her late 40s, has a learning-disabled adult daughter who lives with her. and only a high school education. She and her friends, Dottie (Andrea Gallo) and Jeannie (Elizabeth Ann Townsend), hatch a plot over coffee and a game of bingo to have Margie look up Mike Dillon (R. Ward Duffy), a boy she dated during the summer after high school and who has now returned to Boston as a very well-to-do fertility doctor. As Margie would say, “the shit is ready to stir.”

The play seems more than willing to take on a laundry list of problems that not only face Boston’s fabled South Side, but the country in general: racism, class envy, poverty, and healthcare, to name a few. The show often devolves in to a prosecution of these societal ills by using the characters and their diverse backgrounds to gouge wounds in each other. In some ways, it was like watching an episode of Ricki Lake or Judge Judy while switching over to Golden Girls for a bit of refreshing old lady heckling (oh Estelle Getty, we miss you). As Good People progresses, we are asked to stand behind one character or another as they plead their cases. What got Mike out of the South Side and saved him from being trapped like the rest? Why does Margaret lose so many jobs and why does she, as her friend claims, not push harder for what she wants? Margie makes a case that it was luck that got Mike out (like the game of bingo is a constant throughout the play), but then reaches slightly below the surface to claim that he was helped that summer long ago to move on to college and success. In one startling scene, she links what she perceives to be her bad luck into a chain that is devastating. But throughout the play, resentment is never far from the surface. She reaches in to this bag of resentment as if it were a claim ticket to achieve things she desperately needs: a job and some level of comfort.

Margaret visits Mike at his office, and proceeds to press him for a job and an invitation to a party at his house that might introduce her to someone who can help her. Mike spends much of the play in defense mode, knowing that he is being played and acting just a bit embarrassed by his own success. He doesn’t just have Margaret to push these buttons. His wife Kate—who is both younger and, as Margaret points out in her typical passive-aggressive fashion, black—is also stripping away the layers of her husband’s past. Kate is played by Zoey Martinson, whose performance in Race last season at the Rep was outstanding. Martinson brings elements of that character’s lawyerly ways to this play for great effect. The couple has been in counseling for their marriage. When Kate and Margaret meet, the connection is made between the Mike from the South Boston and Dr. Mike from expensive Chestnut Hill. Things are revealed and accusations are made.

Both the staging and acting on Good People were excellent. A complicated series of transitions was easily staged and seemed flawless. Both Cormier and Martinson were excellent in their roles that flaunted the polar opposites in the play. But Good People is a battleground of a play where nobody seems to win, even with success in their career, marriage, or a game of bingo. Luck is not so much won as it is given to one person or another. What I found with this play is that a character often won my empathy, only to trample it a few minutes later. To be comfortable is the best one can hope for, no matter what station in life a person has achieved.  

Good People is a good play, just one that will leave you more uncomfortable as you walk out the door. | Jim Dunn

Good People plays on the Rep’s Mainstage through January 27, 2013. For further information, visit www.repstl.org.

A side note: I have been meaning to write this with many of the plays I have previously reviewed. With Good People, I was sitting very near the stage and it was even more apparent. I’ve noted that standing ovations have become standard at the end of stage productions. I’m not sure whether it is due to the audience hoping to leave the theater a little more quickly, relief of tired bottoms, or just that it is now expected where once riotous applause would do. Standing ovations are meant for a gigantic achievement. Not to slight the hard work and excellent performances, but aren’t we cheapening it a bit when every play gets a standing O? What if something is truly worthy of the awe? Will we have to be standing on the seats or perhaps throwing roses?  I am certainly not the first person to posit this and realize that this is a very first-world problem. I just want to let these actors and any other actors who might look out and see me sitting and clapping while all around are standing that I do really appreciate their talent (unless I really didn’t like the performance) and I had a good time. I just wish the audience would temper their enthusiasm.

About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

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