How does the old song go? “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”
That sums up Margaret Walsh, whose hand to mouth existence is as normal for her as breathing. Margie (that’s a hard “g”) is from Southie, or South Boston, where the working class residents scrape by and make do and cling to the old neighborhood like it was a good luck charm.
Tough as nails Margie is the heart of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People. The playwright has the utmost respect for Margie and her friends and neighbors. He grew up in Southie and this is his tribute to them. He also knows that sometimes people rise above their rough neighborhoods and hard-knock lives and move to upscale neighborhoods like Chestnut Hill. But Chestnut Hills do not always bring peace and serenity.
Director Tad Janes takes the straight forward approach to Maryland Ensemble Theatre’s Good People, allowing simple staging and honest performances to shine the light on Lindsay-Abaire’s story of working class struggles and survival. The result is an honest portrait of working class adults facing a world of harsh realities. It’s tough to be good people in such a world, but Margie Walsh will die trying.
I have seen Gené Fouché in a number of productions at MET and here she really comes into her own as a leading actress. Her Margie has a big heart, direct manner and wears her Southie stripes like war-paint. Her Margie is clearly as at home sparring with her best friend Jean (a larger than life Lia Seltzer) or her irascible landlady Dottie (played by Julie Herber like Elaine Stritch on an off-day) as she is grappling with her boss Stevie (a natural performance by Kevin Cole) to hold on to her job at the dollar store.
Fouché nails another critical part of Margie’s life – she is a single parent. Her old boyfriend and presumed baby-daddy left many years ago, leaving Margie to provide for Joyce, her special needs child, now grown. She’s always depended on the kindness of neighbors and friends to help her out.
Jean reports she crossed paths with a guy they grew up with who is now a doctor. Mike Dillon, known in Southie as ‘Mikey,’ is now a fertility doctor. “He was always good people,” declares Margie. Mikey (an understated and intense D.C. Cathro) not only got out of Southie, he lives far away from the circles of his youth and would just as soon keep the past buried. When he and Margie cross paths again, loyalty, curiosity, and her single-minded pursuit are tested in surprising ways. I’m not giving anything away when I tell you that Margie makes it to Chestnut Hill and meets Mikey’s wife Kate (a lovely performance by Rona Mensah.) But I will leave you to decide whether Mikey’s status as “good people” stands up or fades by the end.
In scenes like the ladies shooting the breeze at the kitchen table while clipping coupons or at Bingo where everyone enjoys busting Stevie’s chops for liking the game a little too much, the small but gifted company perfectly captures not only the drama but the biting humor in Good People.
And one more accolade: there’s that distinctive dialect for which Southie is known. (Watch an episode of “Wahlburgers” for a quick refresher.) I am no dialect expert but I would say the cast of MET’s Good People made us believe they knew where to get the best lobstah roll.
Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire . Directed by Tad Janes . Featuring DC Cathro, Kevin Cole, Gené Fouché, Julie Herber, Rona Mensah, and Lia Seltzer . Set Design Milee McDonald . Costume Design Lee Hebb . Lighting Design Doug Grove . Sound Designer Thom Huenger . Props Jeanine Evans . Stage Manager Bethanie Herman . Assistant Stage Manager Caitlyn Joy . Produced by Maryland Ensemble Theatre . Reviewed by Jeffrey Walker