‘Good People’ of South Boston
By Carol Davis
SAN DIEGO—Playwright Davis Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole, Fuddy Meers and Kimberly Akimbo was born and grew up in South Boston many moons after I left Massachusetts to move to San Diego. How eerie now for me now to see his latest Good People that is set in South Boston bringing back memories of my student teaching days at the Paul A. Dever school located in that neighborhood.
As a student riding the trolley down Commonwealth Avenue and then the train to the South Boston area to be greeted by however many bright-eyed kindergartners seems miles away. To say that I knew the folks from South Boston that he is writing about in Good People would not be true. But do I know of them? Yes. I know them because in every neighborhood that Blue Collar low end of the totem pole, living from paycheck to paycheck areas of the country, the Southies are there. That was my world, the east side of the city growing up.
In my case it was bettering ourselves so we could move from the east side to the west side of the city. I believe the same can be said of those nasty, lazy food stamp-taking 47%ers that regardless of the noises out there, want the very same things we all want like a job, enough to pay the rent, buy groceries and have better schools and opportunities for our children. Lazy? I don’t think so. Trapped? Perhaps.
That said, the American Dream is still alive and well. But for Margaret (Eva Kaminsky) it was being able to finish high school instead of dropping out because she got pregnant. It might be a job as a receptionist instead of a cashier in The Penny Store. A better education equals a better job and more money with the possibility of moving to the ‘burbs’ in say Brookline, or Newton or Chestnut Hill where she ultimately meets up with her old flame, Mike (R. Ward Duffy) who is now a doctor. But it just wasn’t in her stars.
I get ahead of myself.
The Old Globe Theatre has Lindsay-Abaire’s lovely play, Good People, now making its San Diego premiere in director Paul Mullins’ capable hands. It has a strong cast that grasps the mindset of the folks from South Boston but has a wee bit of trouble getting all those nasty ahs (as in r) in the right order. It’s a minor flaw in an otherwise eye-opening discussion.
Pronunciations aside however, they nail the attitude to a tee and that’s what counts in this production. And while most new friends I meet usually get the place of my “Are you from New York”? wrong,” they never waiver from noting that I am an East Coast gal. That’s my badge of courage even after not living there for over 50 years. Whatever the opinionated attitude, it comes with the territory and that’s what I find so very chahming or charming (some call it hahd nosed and rude) about Good People.
Margie, our central character, is not living on easy street by any stretch of the imagination, but she is a survivor. Her job as a cashier at the penny store is in jeopardy because she is more often than not late for work and her boss; Stevie (James McMenamin) is being pressured from his boss to let Margie go. After a few go-arounds, he remains firm and ultimately gives her her walking papers even as she pleads that she will take a pay cut (she is currently making $9.25/ hour) that would wash out all the raises she ever got. She is desperate to save her job.
Dottie (Robin Pearson Rose embodies her character in entirety and is funny just by being there) is Margaret’s landlord and she also takes care of Margaret’s adult disabled daughter. But Dottie is retired and oversleeps a lot because she stays up late making these little rabbit figures to sell and as a result gets to Margie’s late that in turn makes Margie late for work.
The fact is that Margie needs Dottie more than the other way around. It is taken so matter of fact by Dottie, that it opens a window into the world of the haves and the have-nots on a very small scale. It’s not that Dottie doesn’t empathize or that she is bathing in dough, but she appears more concerned about her little figurines and next month’s rent payment than about Margie not having enough to pay the rent or about getting up early enough for Margie to get to work on time.
Is it attitude, you tell me? Would she evict her to place her own son and family in Margie’s flat because he lost his job? Who knows? Desperate people do desperate things and Lindsay-Abaire makes that abundantly clear in Good People. Hard times stink out loud. It’s a conundrum for Margie because this is not the first time she had been fired from a job and her skills are limited, the job market is tight and she needs to work.
After going around in circles about where to find another job, her best friend Jean (Carol Halstead) suggests she to look up her old flame from the neighborhood some 30 years ago, the good Dr. Mike, who now lives in Chestnut Hill and ask him for a job. These folks spent a lifetime together as kids on the streets growing up with shared memories (albeit with different takes) so there are no secrets between them and no skeletons in their closets (as one of my dear friends from my ‘hood’ often reminds me)
When Margie seeks Mike out, he wants his past buried and forgotten, period! But when Margie does show up at Mike’s high-end neighborhood home for a birthday party that was, in fact cancelled, all bets are called off (Ironically, Mike’s African-American wife thinks Margaret is there to work the party) and the gloves are discarded.
The more he knows that she needs work, the more he backs off even in the face of his (young) wife Kate (Nedra McClyde is charming but clueless) who tries every combination of plan to get her employment and even offering and apologizing to pay her a mere $15 an hour to babysit their young daughter. That $15.00 would almost double her salary at the penny store. She doesn’t even get it when she asks Margie if she prefers red to white wine, or when she places a platter of cheeses in front of her and Margie has to ask what each one is.
Mike becomes unhinged when he sees Kate catering to her. And the more he resists, the more of his past is revealed as his wife’s need to know is louder that than his need to stifle it. Margie is more than willing to oblige and the fireworks continue. Eva Kaminsky’s Margie lets go all the pent-up frustrations, disappointments and loss of struggles, of going it alone, of years of being a loser, of years of not being among the haves; she can’t even win at Bingo.
Her arguments sway back and forth from woe is me to ‘not my fault’ to look how generous I was to break off our relationship so you (Mikie) could go off to college’. Kaminsky is brilliant!
Rounding out this well-balanced cast, James McMenamin is the soft-spoken and somewhat- untouched-by-Margie’s-personal-attacks Stevie. He proves to be another one of the ‘good people’ in Margie’s life. Carol Halstead is also right on as Jean. Jean is one of the lucky ones to have a job as a waitress. She also stirs up the pot for Margie to push her way into Mike’s life. Good friends do that, right?
Back at Bingo night (Michael Schweikhardt designed the sets with simple props in mind with roll-on tables and carry-on chairs) all five are still sitting around the table concentrating on their own cards, markers in hand wondering who might win the cash pot that may in turn be used to pay the rent. And so it goes.
If Good People leaves you feeling uncomfortable, it should. But if you leave the theatre after seeing Good People and continue to be untouched and ignore the disparity, the poverty, and the hopelessness that exists in this country, the richest country in the world, shame on you.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Oct. 28th
Organization: Old Globe Theatre
Production Type: Comedy/Drama
Where: Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Ticket Prices: from $29.00
Venue: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
Carol Davis is a San Diego-based theatre critic. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Short URL: http://www.sdjewishworld.com/?p=31652