We talk with Johanna Day, who plays Good People‘s central character, and director Jackie Maxwell
Margie Walsh is good people. A single parent, who has to work hand to mouth, paycheck to paycheck, to survive and take care of her special needs daughter. A great night for Margie is to kick back with her friends and have some laughs over Bingo. The reality is she’s lost one job too many, including her latest job at a dollar store.
Margie Walsh is also a resident of one of Boston’s most talked about neighborhoods. Resting along Dorchester Bay lies the densely populated area known as Southie – South Boston. It’s a working class section, dominated by Irish-Catholics. Films such as “Good Will Hunting” “The Departed” and “The Town” are all known as “Southie movies,” where scrappy characters face incredible odds, but never lose their solid attitude, healthy sense of humor or their “haad” accent.
Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire grew up in South Boston and understands the lifestyle of many residents who have to live paycheck to paycheck, and still have enough money to play Bingo on Saturday night. His play Good People looks at this hard-scrabble existence through the eyes of Margie.
Margie and her little slice of Southie has come to Washington via Arena Stage, where Good People continues through March 10 in the Kreeger Theatre.
Johanna Day plays Margie. A Tony Award nominee for her work in Proof, Day also played Barbara in the Broadway production of August: Osage County. Her extensive regional credits include Boston’s Huntington Stage where she played Margie in a Good People production that closed in October, and that’s where we start.
“I did Good People in Boston and then I did another play in between,” Day explained. “It was a wonderful experience at Huntington Stage but it was a short rehearsal period and a short run.
Day also suffered personal loss when a brother died just before opening night in Boston. Once the show opened, she said the audiences were wonderful and she worked with a great cast. “But it was crazy.”
“When I got the opportunity to do this again, I was like, ‘Damn, I can do a lot more work on this character.’ This play is chock full of so much, you could work on it forever.”
Jackie Maxwell, Artistic Director of Canada’s Shaw Festival, arrived at Arena to helm this new production and admired Day’s willingness to come back to the play and work with a new cast. “Johanna told me she normally wouldn’t dream of auditioning for the same character again, but Margie is so rich. She said she didn’t feel she got to the end of the part or the depth of it. She was gung ho to go back to it.”
The director and actress agreed that Margie Walsh is, in fact, ‘good people.’ Maxwell offered, “She’s a survivor and gets a lot of stuff thrown at her and that really makes you root for her. Yet, she’s not an angel who behaves brilliantly all the way through. Margie’s no saint. But then, who of us are?”
According to Day, Margie may lead a rough life, but she is hopeful. “People that live rough lives don’t walk around hemming and hawing. They live their life. We all know what’s that’s like.”
The survivor’s attitude is one of Margie’s strongest traits, Maxwell observed. “Margie has a good strong sense of the absurd, along with her sense of humor which is necessary to make her way through.”
As a single parent with special needs child, Margie faces difficult odds. “You lose your job because you’re late and you’re late because you don’t have someone to look after your child. These are the kind of spirals that working poverty can get people into.”
Maxwell added, “That is what makes Margie such a fantastic character. The deck is stacked against her in many ways, but you see her being fast on her feet, smart as hell, making her way through.”
According to Day, there is a question at the heart of Good People. “Is it choice or is it luck how you end up?” When you are from a place like Southie “is it choice that you get out or is it luck because of your circumstances. Someone could have had a poor father, but he pushed them in school. But then others in certain circumstances absolutely cannot get out.”
Maxwell sees Margie’s reconnection with her old lover as a key to Lindsay-Abaire’s big question. “When she meets with Mike Dillon, who is now a high-end doctor, we see she is as smart as he is. The difference is he got out of Southie and what does that mean? Was it luck or hard work that made the difference for him?”
Closes March 10, 2013
Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater
1101 Sixth Street, SW
2 hours, 10 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $40 – $85
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Themes about the widening gap between the haves and the have nots aside, Good People offers something else, according to Day: good storytelling. “For the audience, it’s funny and then before you know it, your heart is broken and you think, ‘how did I get here?’”
Day and Maxwell agreed that Good People is perfect for today, with the economic realities many people still face, inside and outside South Boston. But don’t think the play is just about people from Southie.
Maxwell explained, “It is a very specific play, set in Southie, but in that specificity it’s very universal. It is a play that deals with class and it’s something that is deeply resonant right now.”
Day added, “It’s going to speak to a lot of good people.”