Good People

 

By David Lindsay-Abaire

Good People

Directed by K. Todd Freeman

At Steppenwolf Theatre

Social class and economic opportunity can determine personal mobility

Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People is about the trapping of 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 our 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.

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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 Southies dollar store manager, Stevie (Will Allan) is forced to fire Margaret (the terrific Mariann Mayberry) for chronic tardiness, we witness how traumatic that event can be for the tight-knit Southie’s. Margaret becomes desperate to earn enough money to survive for herself and her mentally challenged grown daughter.  Margaret made several poor major life changing decisions in her teens that keep her trapped in poverty in South Boston.

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She takes advise from her middle aged female friends, Dottie (Molly Regan) and Jean (Lusia Strus) who convince her to look up an old fellow Southie, Mike (Keith Kupferer) who was a  short-timed boyfriend of Margaret 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 Margaret is desperate for a job, she  seeks out doctor Mike for help. After 30 years, will Mike remember and help Margaret or has he become “lace curtain Irish?”

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Their meeting sets the tone (despite generous sprinklings of humor throughout the play) for the powerful, realistic scenes that follow. Margaret is presented in a complex performance by Mariann Mayberry, as not a nice person but rather a mean-spirited manipulative person devoid of audience empathy. We want to empathize with Margaret’s plight  but her dishonesty and our realization from Mike tells us that Margaret (and us) are, indeed, products of all the past decisions we have made.  Margaret 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.

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Without giving away more, let me state that Margaret’s visit to Mike and Kate’s (Alana Arenas)  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.

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.  Mariann Mayberry and Keith Kupferer  anchor a fine cast with their nuanced performances. Good People is a good choice for Steppenwolf Theatre.  Plays about class warfare in America need to be mounted; kudos to Steppenwolf got selecting. this work.

Recommended

Tom Williams

At Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL, call 312-335-1650, www.steppenwolf.org, tickets $2- – $86, Tuesdays thru Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays   at 3 & 7;30 pm, Sundays at 3 & &:30 pm, select Wednesdays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission.