Boston comes to Chapel Hill from Aug. 23rd through Sept. 14th at the Deep Dish Theater Company at the University Mall in the form of David Lindsay-Abaire’s funny and fragile Good People. Only someone born and raised in the working class neighborhoods of South Boston could convey the grittiness and heartbreaking realities a single mom experiences when her world is turned upside down.
Lindsay-Abaire has attained renown with plays such as his Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole, a drama about a family dealing with its grief after a young son dies. That play won five Tony Award® nominations and later became a film starring Nicole Kidman. Good People opened on Broadway in 2011 with Frances McDormand and Tate Donovan in the lead roles. A contemporary examination of what happens to Bostonians during a downturned economy, the playwright pushes the theme further by complicating the story of Margie (played for Deep Dish by Helen Hagan) and her friends who are always “a single paycheck away from desperate straits.”
The play opens with Margie and her boss, Stevie (played by Brian Fisher), having a difficult conversation about Margie’s habitual tardiness and Stevie’s inability to excuse her work habits. When he fires her, she pleads for some understanding, but her tendency to be sarcastic and flippant only serves to dig her a deeper hole. She returns to her apartment in South Boston and shares the news with her best friends Jean (Page Purgar) and Dottie (Sharlene Thomas). The women’s sharp tongues and right-on Bostonian accents (especially Purgar’s, who sounds like she comes directly from the projects) make the sarcastic volleys all the more believable.
Hagan, Purgar and Thomas play a push-me, pull-you game with each other, both in their characters’ roles within the fabric of the play as well as in their acting skills. Hagan’s ability to be both caustic and sympathetic is her strength in this play, whereas Purgar’s gift of comedic timing and pitch-perfect Southie accent makes the audience wince one moment and guffaw the next. Thomas, on the other hand, embodies her role as friend and landlord with a solid sense of self in a more quiet and confident manner than the other actresses.
Little by little, it becomes obvious that Margie’s need for a job is driven by her responsibility to her daughter, Joyce, a mentally-retarded child who never comes on stage yet is center-stage in absentia through the vehicle of conversations between the main characters. Joyce is the illegitimate daughter of Margie and an old boyfriend, Mike (Mark Filiaci), who is currently a well-to-do doctor who has no idea he has fathered Margie’s child. Filiaci plays the role in an awkwardly pompous manner, a veneer that reveals his own embarrassment at growing up in a poor neighborhood and rising out of that area with a wish to never return (much the same as playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, who now lives with his family in Brooklyn).
The story folds in on itself when Margie tries to convince Mike to help her find another job, though she feels shamed to beg for his assistance. In an awkward place, Mike invites her to a party at his home, where he tells her she will meet other doctors and business people who might have a spot for her. Though the economic gulf between them is huge, Margie’s connection with Mike reminds him of where he’s from, a fact that she utilizes to bring him back to earth when he tries to pull away from her.
Because the final act is rife with tension and serves to both build and destroy the complicated relationships, it would be unfair to detail the scene. Suffice it to say that the action is heated and emotional and that Mike’s African-American wife, Kate (Rasool Jahan), finds herself at the center of a controversy that underlines the ongoing tensions in the hardscrabble world in which her husband grew up. Jahan’s role, in some ways, is the toughest of the whole ensemble’s, since she must react to each of the reveals in a believable and emotional manner, tempered by her loyalty to her husband as well as her unwillingness to believe a total stranger.
One of the strengths of this play is the multilayered way in which the lives of these lower-middle-class Bostonians is revealed. But it takes a strong group of actors to deliver the playwright’s lines in a believable Southie accent at a pace that rivals the rapid-fire delivery of a “Seinfeld episode.” Lindsay-Abaire embodies both actors and sets with Southie-isms that define that part of Boston as distinctive. The characters play Bingo in a church hall lined with prints of Jesus, Mary and JFK. The language used by the play’s characters is snappy and cutting. Margie calls Jean, “Mouthie from Southie,” a euphemism recognizable to anyone who has grown up in New England.
When this play premiered on Broadway with Frances McDormand in the lead, some critics called it a “good play” with a tendency to confuse the audience into wondering whether the people in the story are actually “good” or not. Basically, the characters have good hearts but they make honest mistakes, which is what all human beings do, whether they live in South Boston or not. And that basic premise is what causes David Lindsay-Abaire’s writing to rise above.
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 26th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/08/26/3138653/good-people-thoughtfully-funny.html.
Deep Dish Theater Company presents GOOD PEOPLE at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 28 and 29, 8 p.m. Aug. 30 and 31, 2 p.m. Sept. 1, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 4 and 5, 8 p.m. Sept. 6 and 7, 2 p.m. Sept. 8, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11 and 12, and 8 p.m. Sept. 13 and 14 in Deep Dish’s performance space at 201 S. Estes Dr., Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514, between The Print Shop and the Public Library at the Dillard’s end of University Mall.
TICKETS: $24 ($21 seniors), with a $2 discount for Wednesday and Thursday shows, and $16 for students for all shows.
BOX OFFICE: 919-968-1515 or http://www.etix.com/.
NEWS RELEASE: http://www.deepdishtheater.org/news?n=110.
2013-14 SEASON: http://www.deepdishtheater.org/productions.
DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://www.deepdishtheater.org/location. DEEP
DISH BOOK CLUB: will lead a discussion of Down the Up Escalator: How the 99 Percent Live in the Great Recession by Barbara Garson, starting at 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 9th, at the Chapel Hill Public Library, 100 Library Dr., Chapel Hill, NC 27514.
NOTE 1: All tickets will be sold at the door for $12 each, first come, first served, on “Cheap Dish Night,” Wednesday, Aug. 28th.
NOTE 2: There will be a preshow “Meet-the-Play” talk at 7 p.m. on on Friday, August 30th.
NOTE 3: There will be a post-performance discussion on Sunday, Sept. 1st, with the cast and Mark Dorosin, managing attorney for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Civil Rights; and a “Meet-the-Designers” discussion on Thursday, Sept. 5th, with the production staff.
Good People (2011 Broadway play): http://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/past-shows/goodpeople/default.asp (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_People_(play) (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
David Lindsay-Abaire (American playwright and screenwriter): http://americantheatrewing.org/biography/detail/david_lindsay_abaire (American Theatre Wing) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Lindsay-Abaire (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. She is also Dean of General Education and Developmental Studies at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, where she oversees the theater program at the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, and a member of the Person County Arts Council. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.
This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Review, a FREE weekly e-mail entertainment newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill performing-arts events than all of the other news media combined. To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.
To read all of Dawn Reno Langley’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.