Directed by Matt Hawkins
At Redtwist Theatre, Chicago
Funny look at how the other-half lives turns poignant as it re-defines what ‘good people’ actually are.
Redtwist Theatre boldly mounts storefront productions of plays that major regional theatres have recently produced, giving them an up-close intimate feel that usually makes the play stronger. That sure was the case with director Matt Hawkins’ truthful production of a worthy comic drama, Good People. This production is better than the worthy Steppenwolf Theatre’s 2012 production, mainly because the casting was stronger and more honest to their characters.
Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People is about being stuck into one lower social and economic class while some are able to escape into the upwardly mobile world of affluence. Does that happen through hard work, focus, and strong parenting, or is it a matter of luck? Do the choices we make when we are young shape and limit our ability to move upward in society? Those questions are vividly presented in Lindsay-Abaire’s 2011 comic drama, Good People. The early scenes vividly depict how the poor live. Humor reigns here.
Set in South Boston’s blue collar Irish-American neighborhood, we meet the Southie’s who cling to their neighborhood for survival. It is a place where generation after generation are born, live, and die together; a place few ever escape. When a young Southie’s dollar store manager, Stevie (Aaron Kirby) is forced to fire Margie (Jacqueline Grandt) for chronic tardiness, we witness how traumatic that event can be for the tight-knit Southie’s. Margie becomes desperate to earn enough money for herself and her mentally challenged grown daughter to survive. She made several poor major life changing decisions in her teens that keep her trapped in poverty in South Boston.
She takes advice from her middle aged female friends, Dottie (Kathleen Ruhl) and Jean (KC Karen Hill), who convince her to look up an old fellow Southie, Mike (Mark Pracht), who was a short-time boyfriend of Margie’s during their high school days. Mike left South Boston and became a doctor. He is now living in affluent Chestnut Hill with his wife and child. Since Margie is desperate for a job, she seeks out Doctor Mike for help. After 30 years, will Mike remember and help Margie, or has he become “lace curtain Irish?”
Their meeting sets the tone after, generous sprinklings of humor throughout, for the powerful, realistic scenes that follow. Margie, played marvelously by Jacqueline Grandt, is not a nice person, but rather a mean-spirited manipulative person devoid of our empathy. We want to empathize with Margie’s plight, but her dishonesty and our realization from Mike tells us that Margie, and all of us are, indeed, products of all the past decisions we have made. Margie blames the neighborhood, her parents, and society for trapping her into poverty. Mike makes the case for personal responsibility for the outcome of our lives, not luck. That personal integrity trumps. Was Margie’s child really Mike’s? If so, why didn’t Margie seek support from Mike over the last thirty years? Her pride, or was Mike maybe not the father?
Without giving away more, let me state that Margie’s visit to Mike and Kate’s (Kiki Layne) home cleverly sparks high drama that presents the various shades of gray that muddles the class divide. It shows how our past can still affect the present; that old secrets and spontaneous decisions from our youth can catch up with us years later. Who the real ‘good people’ are is complicated.
Good People is a funny, honest and vividly naturalistic slice-of-life comic drama that intelligently defines the nature of just what a ‘good person’ actually is. Smartly, playwright David Lindsay-Abaire presents the complex, contradictorily nature of human behavior that has the key characters struggling with the affects of all their life decisions. Jaqueline Grandt and Mark Pracht anchor a fine cast with their honest performances. Kathleen Ruhl nails her comic bits nicely, while Aaron Kirby is the real mensch of this play. Redtwist once again proves that intimate storefront theatre adds honesty through intimate storytelling. Good People is good, real good, theatre! Don’t miss this show.
For more info checkout the Good People page at theatreinchicago.com
At Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL, call 773-728-7529, www.redtwist.org, Tickets $30 – $35 (seniors/students $5 off), Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes with intermission.