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Sunday, 06 March 2011 16:08

Broadway Review: GOOD PEOPLE

Written by
Becky Ann Baker, Estelle Parsons and Frances McDormand (l-r) Becky Ann Baker, Estelle Parsons and Frances McDormand (l-r) Photo: Joan Marcus
In David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People, currently playing at Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, Frances McDormand is once again playing a rough-around-the-edges character, something that has set her apart in Hollywood.  Her Margie is as hard as the pronunciation of the g in her name.  She has just been fired from her job as a cashier in a dollar store where she eeks out a minimal existence for herself and her severely retarded daughter. To add insult to injury, she was fired by Stevie (Patrick Carroll in a terrific Broadway debut), her baby-faced boss whose now deceased mother was a friend of Margie’s.

Lindsay-Abair, who received the Pulitzer Prize for his play Rabbit Hole (recently turned into a movie with Nicole Kidman) has crafted believable, grizzled characters.   They are resigned to their lot in life, seemingly the rule rather than the exception in our country's current state of affairs.  He has imbued these characters with a fluid sense of right and wrong that has been instilled in them as a coping mechanism for their hard-knock existence.

McDormand's Margie is stoic in the face of this adversity as she sets about looking for a new job.  Her landlady, played with usual caustic voraciousness by the marvelous Estelle Parsons, isn't above throwing her out if next month's rent isn't received.  Margie's friend Jean, in a nicely nuanced performance from Becky Ann Baker, offers Margie a few less-than-ethical solutions to her problems.  She encourages Margie to reach out to Mike (Tate Donovan in a confident performance), a former boyfriend who has escaped the outlying rough neighborhood of Boston known as Southie.  He is now a fertility doctor who lives in the upscale neighborhood of Chestnut Hill with his wife and daughter.  

Just when you think you have an idea who Margie is, out of desperation she takes one of Jean's suggestions and tries to railroad Mike into believing that her daughter might actually be his.  She confronts him in his comfortable home where she has gotten herself invited to a birthday party (subsequently cancelled after Mike's daughter gets sick, not believing him, she shows up anyway).  Mike and his wife Kate (appealingly played by Renée Elise Goldsbury) have a seemingly bucolic life. It becomes obvious that they have problems just like any other couple.  As Margie shows up for the party, Kate mistakes her for someone from the catering company who has come to pick up the rented glasses and tables.  Upon finding out that she is actually a childhood friend of Mike's, she insists that she stay for a glass of wine and tell her all about Mike as a child.  

What ensues is a marvelous scene where Margie's desperation propels her to use Jean's entrapment technique, implying that her daughter might actually be his.  Margie vacillates between her own good-cop, bad-cop routine after Mike poo-poos his wife's suggestion that they might offer her babysitting work occasionally.  

In his creation of these characters, Lindsay-Abair has held up a mirror to the desperation many in our society are experiencing with an unemployment rate that only this past week finally dipped below 9% for the first time in two years.  He has created believable characters in a tightly woven story that has been carefully directed by Daniel Sullivan, a man whose Broadway pedigree (The Merchant of Venice, Rabbit Hole) has firmly established him as one of the preeminent directors of our time.

John Lee Beatty has deftly created both the blue-collar tenement of Margie's apartment and Mike's upscale Chestnut Hills home. Set on a turntable, the scene changes are remarkably fast and keep the pace of the play unencumbered.  

One might not think a play with such a serious topic could be funny but Mr Lindsay-Abair has given all the characters their share of very funny lines even as they struggle for their existence.  Miss Parsons seems to get the best of these while costume designer David Zinn has given her a zany look like an aging Cindi Lauper.

David Lindsay-Abair’s central theme of not being able to escape your past or your present presents us with just such a gift, two hours of escape through the eyes of someone whose existence just might make us feel better about our own meager existence. Good People is good theatre.

Additional Info

  • Theatre: Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
  • Theatre Address: 261 West 47th St. New York, NY 10036
  • Show Style: Play
  • Previews:: February 8, 2011
  • Opening Night: March 3, 2011
  • Closing: May 8, 2011
Last modified on Sunday, 06 March 2011 19:04