A Great View of Class Conflict with Theater Barn’s “Good People”
Actors need challenging scripts to do great work. There is proof being offered at The Theater Barn where the cast and the director of David Lindsay-Abaire’s brilliant, Tony-winning “Good People” are having a fantastic time leaping into his story of American class differences and raising each other’s game with every laugh and plot turn.
“Good People” tells the story of Margie Walsh (Kathleen Carey) who is just being fired from her job at The Dollar Store by family friend Stevie (Joseph Sicotte) when we meet her in the opening scene. She is a single mother in the South End of Boston who pays her unreliable landlady (Lisa Franklin) $50. a week to watch her adult special needs daughter. Her friend Jeanie offers the bright suggestion that Margie should look to childhood squeeze made good, Dr. Mikey Dillon (Christopher Brophy) to see if he might have a job. She takes the T out to Chestnut Hill to confront how their two lives have diverged and meets Mike’s young wife, Kate (Kim Wafer).
Margie, pronounced with a hard g, is up against it. She is a late middle-aged woman with overwhelming credit card debt, all day home care responsibilities and no skills to lift her above the minimum wage jobs. There are no punches pulled in this script nor in this production. In fact, it is at its finest when the dire circumstances are laid bare and spelled out specifically as when Margie scathingly details for Mike the cost of a single piece of brittle candy after it breaks a tooth.0
Kathleen Carey, a Theater Barn regular for many years, is furiously convincing in this speech and it is in this section at The Dillon’s palatial estate where Margie’s anger gets the better of her and the evening’s fireworks go off spectacularly with her scene partners Brophy and Wafer. Up until then, Carey has been banking her bitterness, deflecting with her dark wit and she is generous in her appraisal of others. It is a great role for Kathleen and she is having a fantastic time playing this very funny woman who could desperately use a lift up. I felt the weight of her burdens and the thrill of engagement when Margie squared off with her old flame letting him have it with both barrels. Even when she is doing what she knows is wrong, it is understandable after the slights thrown her way. I’ve imagined this being a great part for Kathleen for a long time and she does not disappoint.
“Good People,” the title, presumably applies to everyone but there are some deeply conflicting motives and actions in this play of vast economic differences. Christopher Brophy is deliciously challenged throughout this confrontation in his home and matches Carey nicely with sarcasm and an explosion of his own. Kim Wafer starts out soft vocally but is comfortably gracious and rivets our attention when she must wrest the truth from Carey with what turns out to be the play’s shining moment of moral clarity. Phil Rice has done a great job with this exceptionally talented cast and these three handle this confrontation very well. Great scene folks.
The opening scenes in The Dollar Store alley, Margie’s kitchen and a Bingo Hall setting up her predicament are great fun with Dottie, Jeanie and Stevie. There are porous emotional boundaries among this tribe of poor whites where a kid you knew since he was a baby is your boss and your landlady watches your daughter while monitoring your spending in the kitchen and Bingo Hall. Lisa Franklin is a blast as the deceptively sharp Dottie, always ready to pounce on an opportunity for cash for her or her petty thief son, Russell. Angela Potrikus makes the Mouthie from Southie, Jeanie, great company to be around with her lacerating tongue, puncturing all pretenses in sight. Joseph Sicotte gives Stevie patience, decency, and some of the evening’s best Boston vowels. These characters may be hard to take, at first, with their dismissive attitudes and casual racism but there’s no denying they’re fun and the cast is having a ball playing them.
The only misstep of the evening besides some opening night hesitation is in the scene changes which are slightly too long and ineffective. The five settings designed by Sam Slack look fine, especially the transformation to Chestnut Hill, but it takes too long to get there. Joseph Sicotte is doing double and triple duty as the sound and lighting designer as well as playing Stevie and his acting is far more distinguished. Kara Demler does fine, attractive, character defining work again as Costume Designer.
“Good People” asks hard questions of its audience about how we view opportunity and poverty in America. It is a deeply moral comedy of manners that will have you laughing loudly at our cursed fate. The play is over ten years old but it’s the best script Theater Barn has produced in years and it is being given an excellent production with a stellar cast.