Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Stage 3's production of 'Good People' - "comical and entertaining" by Shari Schweigler

The award-wining play, “Good People,” has opened at Stage 3 Theatre in Sonora.  Set in Boston’s tough South End, as well as upscale suburb Chestnut Hill, the play pits those who “made it” against those who didn’t. Think of the neighborhoods in the movie “Good Will Hunting.”

The audience is transported to working-class “Southie” by the tough-luck tales and salty language of three Southie ladies.  One of these, Margie, quickly gains our sympathy. Played with brilliant authenticity by Sarah Grimes-Emmons, Margie (short for Margaret with the hard “g”) has the pluck to survive her hard life, but her friends say her soft heart gets in her way.   

In 2011 Frances McDormand won a Tony for originating this role. The play, by David Lindsay-Abaire, won the New York Drama Critics Circle award for best play.

Margie is a single parent as her mother was, both having been deserted by their men.  But Margie’s employment history has been more complicated because her grown daughter requires special care.  Her “Joycie” was born with developmental disabilities and is presently watched over during the day by Margie’s landlady, Dottie, as a favor to Margie, who can afford nothing better for Joyce.  Though loving, Dottie is unreliable, and her tardiness has cost Margie her latest job.  Susan Michael is hilariously entertaining as Dottie, and I couldn’t help thinking how well she was named, if you know the English slang term “dotty.”  Note that Estelle Parsons played her on Broadway, and I think you can guess the sweet, senile, silliness of this character.

Thanks to Margie’s old friend Jean, Margie discovers that her high school fling “Mikey” is back in town.  He is now a successful pediatrician and lives in a better neighborhood.  Jean encourages Margie to ask him for a job. Played with gusto by Sherry Dumas, Jean earns her nickname “Mouthie from Southie” by telling it like it is on every topic, including some private ones.  She’s the one who tells Margie, “You’re too nice.  You have to be a selfish pr___ to get anywhere.”  Is this how Dr. Mike succeeded?  At first Margie calls him “good people,” but later we wonder with her if that’s accurate.  

We are also inclined to sit in judgment of Margie.  Is SHE “good people,” or has a hard life turned her mean as Mike suggests? It is easy to sympathize with the chain of events that have held her back, but Mike resolutely blames her for bad choices, even when she points out that he “made it” based more on luck and other people’s help than on autonomous, good choices. Margie lashes out easily and spares no language, going for the jugular and then pulling back with a jokey claim of “just bustin’ balls.” She has a street-kid’s wit and biting tongue, but we still see her good nature.

As Mike, Denny Bowen shows us Mike’s nervousness that belies his confidence, suggesting that the success at leaving behind the old neighborhood may be only on the surface.  Ashley Flowers as his wife and Joseph Slankard as Stevie, the manager who fires Margie, round out this cast of “good people,” well-directed by Steve Coniglio.

When Act II begins, we go from the stark kitchens, alleys, and bingo halls of Southie to a posh living room in Chestnut Hill, a lovely set by Tommy Johnson and Ron Cotnam helping us make the leap. Great musical interludes between scenes help create the local color of Boston.

I recommend this show whole-heartedly, another in Stage 3’s line of comical and entertaining plays that always contain a good bit of heart.  

 “Good People” plays Thursday through Sunday until October 12.  Call 209-536-1778 or go to for tickets.

Shari Schweigler