Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Good People

Also see Susan's review of The Motherfucker with the Hat

Johanna Day and Andrew Long
Too often, plays that examine issues of social class and inequality are polemical and preachy at the expense of entertainment value. Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire demonstrates the right way to treat this kind of material in Good People, which crackles and shoots verbal sparks in its current production at Arena Stage in Washington, DC.

The crux of the drama is how much individuals should be expected to do for themselves in tough times, and what the surrounding community can and should do to help them. In other words, many people use the term "personal responsibility," but no two people define it exactly the same way. Director Jackie Maxwell, artistic director of the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, respects the playwright's words and balances the humanity of the characters against the underlying issues.

Good People follows Margie Walsh (Johanna Day), a tough-talking single mother from the close-knit South Boston neighborhood, as she struggles with personal and financial problems. Margie has an adult daughter who is developmentally disabled and needs constant care, but the time she devotes to her daughter cuts into her work hours as a cashier at a dollar store and she's on the verge of losing her low-wage job. (The play is not overtly political; the characters seek relief on a personal basis, not a change in the system.)

Residents of "Southie" may have abrasive personalities and insult each other as a matter of course, but they're fiercely loyal. Margie's landlady Dottie (Rosemary Knower) and friend Jean (Amy McWilliams) bicker and hold grudges while they commiserate and go to bingo together.

As it happens, Margie's long-ago boyfriend, Mike (Andrew Long), had some opportunities to move beyond Southie, and now he's a successful doctor. Margie asks him for help in finding work, and their ensuing conversation—also including Mike's wife Kate (Francesca Choy-Kee), a literature professor—stirs up a lot of old, lightly buried animosity.

Day gives a masterful performance as a woman fighting to keep her head above water. She's prickly yet sensitive, determined to stay within her self-image as a good person. Long is excellent in depicting a man who has succeeded in the present by submerging the more negative aspects of his past.

Todd Rosenthal's scenic design economically conveys both the hulking houses of Southie and the airy, elegantly decorated living room of Mike and Kate's house in suburban Chestnut Hill. Linda Cho's costumes instantly convey the socioeconomic status and personal taste of their wearers.

Arena Stage
Good People
February 1st - March 10th
By David Lindsay-Abaire
Margaret: Johanna Day
Stevie: Michael Glenn
Dottie: Rosemary Knower
Jean: Amy McWilliams
Mike: Andrew Long
Kate: Francesca Choy-Kee
Directed by Jackie Maxwell
Kreeger Theater, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Sixth and Maine avenues SW Washington, DC Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or

Photo: Margot Schulman