‘Good People’ Shows Us The Ugly Underbelly Of Success

Photo by Emily Cooper
Photo by Emily Cooper

Pride is a tricky thing. On one hand, it’s a “sin” and we should aim to be more humble. On the other hand, the immense satisfaction we feel from a job well done is what motivates us to keep achieving our goals. Wanting to be proud of ourselves, but not too proud, then becomes a delicate balancing act that can easily skew our perception of what is right or wrong, good or bad, ugly or pretty, and so on. Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People discusses how far people are willing to stretch themselves in the pride.

In the back alley of a local South Boston dollar store, we are introduced to Margie (Colleen Wheeler). She’s been a cashier there for about three years but due to her consistent tardiness, she is about to be fired. Trying to prevent this, Margie uses her past friendship with the store manager’s deceased mother to diffuse the situation. It doesn’t work. She then says she’ll take a lower wage if she can stay on. This also doesn’t work. Margie then doles out insults to try and bully her manager into not firing her. Again, this does not work. Margie, in her early 50s, with a developmentally delayed adult daughter living at home, is out of work.

Back at her apartment, Margie, her friend Jeanne (Jenn Griffin) and her landlord/”friend” Dottie (Patti Allen) discuss her current situation. Jeanne tells Margie she ran into Mike Dillon (Scott Bellis), a boy they grew up with and who Margie dated briefly at the end of high school. Mike is now a successful fertility doctor who is once again living in Boston. Jeanne suggests Margie go and ask him for a job which Margie agrees to because she remembers Mike being “good people” and would probably help her out.

Margie meets with Mike at his office and it’s an uncomfortable interaction for them and the audience. Margie is a bit of a ball-buster and Mike… well, Mike is a bit over-sensitive and not exactly pleased to have Margie in his office. He’s polite but there’s an underlying feeling of contempt for not just Margie, but for anyone or anything from his old neighbourhood. Mike doesn’t have a job for her but Margie persists and in between the verbal jabs back and forth, Margie is invited to the birthday party Mike’s wife is throwing for him. A few days later Mike calls to say the party is cancelled. Margie doesn’t believe it is actually cancelled and thinks he just didn’t want her to be there so she shows up anyway.

In Mike and his wife Kate’s house, we witness 30 years of resentment and disdain reach its boiling point. Mike accuses Margie of making bad choices in her life and that is why she is in her current predicament. Margie reminds him that his success is not due to him pulling himself up by the bootstraps but because of luck. In addition to a caring mother, Mike had a father who was actually employed – a true novelty in their old neighbourhood. His one dalliance engaging in deviant behaviour, although brutal, was quickly halted because Mike’s father intervened, thus preventing potential criminal charges. Mike rebuffs all of this and continues to shame Margie for her blue-collar ways. Margie lashes out and reveals that Mike is the father of her daughter. She never told him because Mike was on his way to college and she didn’t to ruin his life.

Good People is intense and complicated. You can easily relate to both Mike and Margie, while simultaneously disliking aspects of their behaviour. Margie is not too proud to beg for a job and will do anything to take care of her and her daughter. However, her decision to not tell Mike that he is the father of her daughter has negatively affected much of her life. Although Mike loves applauding himself for getting out of the old neighbourhood and making something of himself despite his “dire upbringing” maybe that narrative is the only way he can digest the reality that he was, and still is, privileged and everyone knows it.

Lindsay-Abaire’s play is wrought with painful truths and uncomfortable moments that most of the audience can relate to, but it’s also layered with complex and lovable characters that help soften the blow. In particular, Jeanne, expertly portrayed by Jenn Griffin, is brash and direct but is also cheeky, playful and sympathetic. She is the type of friend anyone would want in their corner. Jeanne, and even negative Dottie, help provide a nice counter balance to the toxicity between Mike and Margie. It has been an exceptionally long time since I have enjoyed a show this much.

Presented by the Arts Club, Good People is playing at Stanley Alliance Industrial Stage until April 24th. For tickets: https://artsclub.com/shows/2015-2016/good-people