There are few communities that have appeared in pop culture as often as the working class Boston neighborhood of Southie, a place where loyalty seems as entrenched as its poverty. It’s here that David Lindsay-Abaire sets his play “Good People.” But unlike the novels of Dennis Lehane or films like “Good Will Hunting,” this work seems intensely personal. Lindsay-Abaire himself came out of Southie, and with this play the Pulitzer Prize-winner explores the role that class and advantage play in America today.
“Good People” centers on Margie (Dawn A. Westbrook), a Southie woman who has trouble holding down a job while caring for her handicapped adult daughter. As adroitly portrayed by Westbrook, she’s a crusty fighter, plenty smart and much more than a symbol of the working class. After losing yet another job, Margie hears that her high-school flame Mike (Jay O. Millman) is a successful doctor in the city. Desperate for rent money, she decides to pay Mike a visit to see if he could hire her.
In a scene that shows the brilliance of both Lindsay-Abaire’s script and Anna Johnson’s direction, Margie and Mike square off at his office. As they discuss Margie’s employment, growing up together and their current lives, Westbrook and Millman do excellent work in letting the scene unfold naturally. In the end, Mike invites Margie to his birthday party in the hopes that one of his friends might hire her. Mike later cancels, but sensing that he just got cold feet about having her meet his upper-crust friends, Margie decides to go anyway.
Her action launches Margie, Mike and Mike’s wife, Kate (Katrinah Carol Lewis), into a conversation that pokes a Fenway Park-sized hole through the American Dream notion of social mobility through hard work. Margie sees the advantages that Mike had placed in front of him, and isn’t about to let him take all the credit for his success. Johnson’s direction uses Lindsay-Abaire’s wickedly biting script to its full humorous potential. Lewis captures Kate’s dueling desire to play a good host to Margie and get back at Mike for his previous transgressions.
Alexander Sapp’s portrayal of Margie’s former boss Stevie shows a man exasperated but still loyal to her, and Jacqueline O’Connor and Kelly Kennedy are hilarious as Margie’s best friends Jean and Dottie. While everyone does great work here, its Westbrook’s winning portrayal of the simultaneously kind and manipulative Margie that makes the show.
Brian Barker’s transforming set expertly renders the show’s multiple settings on the small stage, and McLean Jesse’s costume design successfully matches the characters and their respective budgets, as with Margie’s ill-fitting and outdated party dress.
With this work Lindsay-Abaire seems to be reflecting on his own success, how much of it was his hard work and how much of it was the advantages he already had. It’s wonderful to see a work addressing an issue like class while still telling an engrossing and heartfelt story.
If you’re in the mood for a crusty tale that doesn’t pull any punches as it stares the American Dream in the face, check out “Good People.”Cadence Theatre Company’s “Good People” plays at Virginia Rep Center through Nov. 9. For information, call 282-2620 or visit va-rep.org.