“Good People” On Stage At Geffen Playhouse In La

Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

David Lindsay-Abaire, the off-beat playwright of such plays as “Kimberly Akimbo” and “”Rabbit Hole” (a powerful story) debuted his latest effort “Good People” at LA’s Geffen Playhouse last week.  This time he takes a page from his own roots; examining the lives of South Boston residents or “Southies’s”, as they are affectionately known in  Boston’s working class neighborhoods.  Lindsay-Abaire proudly focus’s on his “Southie” heritage, and imbues his Boston-born Irish-American characters with a love of family, and their neighborhood (Southie), along with a ton of social, economic, and cultural problems in the process.

The LA theatre scene really benefits from having a wealth of talented actors who work and live in the LA area.  After all, it’s the hub of the movie business and home base for many TV sit-com shows.  The cast of “Good People” directed by Matt Shakman, boasts award-winning actors with solid credits, and a creative team you can take to the bank.  Why then, was it so hard for me to connect with these “good people”?   According to program notes and an interview with Lindsay-Abaire, regardless of his best intentions about plot, and characters, he says the play would inevitably end up being about class struggle in Brahmin-run Boston.

In today’s America, older urban neighborhoods have the preponderance of unemployed workers.  The country has been in an economic crisis mode for three years, a scary sign of the times. What is the effect of this situation on America? That alone would make a great backdrop for a play about a serious subject – the steady erosion of America’s middle class.  But alas, that is not the story Lindsay-Abaire wants to tell.  On press night, the “laugh birds” were out, and the play took on the tone of a TV sitcom with laughs coming practically at the end of each line.  Yes, laughter covers the pain and the collective shock of recognition on the part of the audience as to the core story, but let’s not lose sight of the plight of the characters in the process.

Lindsay-Abaire’s story stars the wonderfully talented Jane Kaczmarek, who portrays Margie Walsh, a combative single mom and high school dropout, who is habitually late for work in her low end, hourly paying job due to unreliable home care for her daughter, eventually getting herself fired.  Margie alienates rather than generates any empathy or sympathy for her plight or for workers in similar situations.  She drowns her disappointment, her resentment, her denial, and her future, in sharp-edged, off-putting self-destructive one-liners, and zingers that are aimed at keeping people who might be able to help distant.  This passive/aggressive attitude may satisfy her pride, but it comes with a high price tag and at the expense of her future and that of her daughter. She’s now unemployed, with rent due, and a child with a major disability to take care of.  Not a good trade-off.

Jon Tenney as Mike, a one-time high school beau of Margie’s is a “Southie” who got out of the neighborhood via the education route and hard work.  Mike is now a successful doctor with a wife, a young daughter, and an upscale lifestyle and a beautiful home in the Chestnut Hill section of Boston.  Margie, in a desperate move contacts Mike with the intent of asking for a job in his office, which sets in motion a series of events that lead to highly charged confrontations and moments of truth that touch the lives of Margie, Mike, and his wife Kate (Cherise Boothe) in unexpected ways.

Tenney’s Mike is a worthy opponent for Kaczmarek’s Margie.  He’s a “Southie” too, and he won’t be bullied or forced to do something he feels is not in his best interest.  Their on stage chemistry and nose to nose confrontations is the stuff that made Albee’s George and Martha so compelling to watch in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

Brad Fleisher as Stevie, Margie’s boss, Marylouise Burke as Dottie, Margie’s landlady, and Sara Botsford as Jean, Margie’s friend complete the solidly acted cast.

The creative team led by Shakman includes an excellent set by Set Designer Craig Siebels, and a nice mood lighting plot by Elizabeth Harper, and costumes by E.B. Brooks.  The Geffen Playhouse, in keeping with its mission statement, is the perfect venue to present somewhat edgier, and interesting original work.

This story, although solidly produced, may not be my favorite play or cup of tea, but one cannot deny the passion and the talent of the actors who are working very hard to make it an evening in the theatre that one will remember.  The play runs through May 13, 2012.  Call the Playhouse at 310-208-5454 for reservations and ticket information.

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