Good People is set in South Boston or "Southie," a working class neighborhood where Margie, a single mother in her late 40s, is about to be fired from her cashier job at a local dollar store. She's a minimum wage employee who's been fired because she has been late too many times. Margie has an adult special needs daughter at home whose caretaker was late getting to her, so Margie has a good reason for her tardiness, but that doesn't matter. You like Margie; she's had a tough life and has tried to make the best of it, but she lives within the lines and rules she's been given. She barely complains and is desperately trying to find a job, any job, which will help her pay her rent and care for her daughter. A chance meeting with Mike, a former high school boyfriend who is now a well off doctor, sets in motion the plot which focuses not only on Margie hopefully finding a job but on what would have happened if she and Mike hadn't broken up.
It is a play about the choices that people make and how those choices ultimately affect the people around them as well as the friends who become our family and life support system when times get bad. It is extremely funny and moving as well. I don't want to say much more about the plot as there are plenty of twists and revelations in it, but Lindsay-Abaire has written an interesting story that, while coming across a bit like a soap opera, has such rich characters and realistic dialogue and situations that you can imagine that there really are people like Margie and Mike out there who are living in similar circumstances. The title refers to using the term "good people" to say that someone has good character and upbringing. But, by the end of the play, we realize that even people who we might think are "good people" may not be, and that has to do with the way that Lindsay-Abaire has made almost all of the characters both villains and heroes. I especially like how even Stevie, the young man we don't really like because he has to fire Margie, comes back in the play in an important and positive way at the end.
Lindsay-Abaire has his characters illustrate the constantly changing roles that people assume, including one scene in which Margie comes to visit Mike at his office. She is desperately hoping he has a job for her, even willing to do janitorial work in his office. But the tables turn when Margie uses her wit and words to get the upper hand in the conversation, as well as an invitation to his upcoming birthday party where she could meet his friends who might have job opportunities. The scene ends with Margie assuming control, even sitting in Mike's office chair. It is an effective scene, like every other one in this production that is well directed by Matthew Weiner.
Wiener has assembled a top-notch cast for this production, with some of the best actors in the Phoenix area, including a stellar performance by Katie McFadzen as a desperate Margie. The actress's ability to get across Margie's way of using non-stop talking to get out of any situation is perfectly played, as well as Margie's sense of pride. Margie is "good people" for sure. McFadzen also has a nice comic sensibility and easily shows the sense of humor that Margie never loses, even with all of her setbacks. It's a heartbreaking performance that McFadzen instills with an underlying sense of hope. And, while McFadzen's Boston accent isn't as thick as it probably should be, it is clear and consistent throughout.
Mike is the villain of the storyor is he? Rusty Ferracane at first displays a layer of cockiness, in how Mike managed to make it out of the neighborhood to make something of himself. Using a combination of well thought out line delivery and related body language, Ferracane makes it clear in a professional, non-emotional way that Mike doesn't really want anything to do with Margie, let alone help her get a job. But we soon realize we may not exactly be correct in the way we think about Mike. Ferracane is impressive in how he balances the various layers of the character, with his controlled sense of anger especially effective. Shanique S. Scott is very authentic as Mike's younger wife Kate, who is very interested in talking to Margie and learning about Mike's past. Scott exudes warmth as Kate, especially in how she welcomes Margie into her home with open arms, then shows how Kate changes to defend her family.
Maria Amorocho is Margie's friend Jean who gets Margie thinking about how she can use Mike to her advantage, and Cathy Dresbach is Margie's landlady Dottie, caretaker of Margie's daughter. Both have great comic timing and have no problem navigating the quick witted dialogue while maintaining perfect Boston accents. Their heated interactions with each other are a realistic example of how two good friends of one person may not in fact be close friends themselves. Tyler Eglen is Stevie the dollar store manager who fires Margie and, though Stevie is in an authority position, Eglen's somewhat soft spoken delivery and indirect eye contact are perfect for this character who seems almost as lost as everyone else in the play.
Jeff Thomson's set design is simple and very effective; that simplicity puts the focus of the production on the characters and dialogue and not the scenery. Using just three large rotating panels that display photographs of the setting of each scene and a few pieces of furniture, Thomson gives us a sense of traveling to the various locations within the Boston area. Connie Furr Soloman's costume designs are just as effective in portraying the different classes of the characters in the play, with Margie's party attire that includes an outdated jacket and inappropriate stockings summing up Margie perfectly.
While Good People presents characters and situations none of us would ever hope to encounter, the Actors Theatre production has a crackerjack cast who bring these characters to life. With such an excellent cast and notable direction, Actors Theatre scores again with their production of David Lindsay-Abaire's thought-provoking play.
The Actors Theatre production of Good People runs through May 11, 2014, with performances at the Arizona Opera Center, 1636 N. Central Avenue in Phoenix. Tickets can be ordered at actorstheatrephx.org/ or by calling (602) 888-0368.
Director: Matthew Wiener