Good People

David Lindsay-Abaire puts aside the wacky characters and situations of some of his earlier work (Wonder of the World, Fuddy Meers) and plays it straighter in his new Good People. But his signature damaged people are still present to fuel this sober comedy set in Boston’s Southie neighborhood.

Margaret (Johanna Day) has spent her working life getting (and losing) a series of minimum-wage jobs, barely keeping a household together for her and her developmentally-disabled daughter Joyce. When Mike (Andrew Long), a boy she knew from high school 30 years earlier, returns to the city as a successful endocrinologist and with a very young bride, Margaret reluctantly approaches him with the thin hope of a hand up—a job as a receptionist, a referral to one of his well-to-do friends, anything. Precisely how well Mike and Margaret knew each other all those years before is the information, gradually given to us, that drives the plot.

In the second-act confrontation among Margaret, Mike, and his wife Kate (Francesca Choy-Kee), in Mike and Kate’s posh home in Chestnut Hill, everyone gets his say. In particular, Margaret makes a strong case that the line between success and failure is quite fine. Hard work will only get you so far; what’s needed is a lucky break or someone else’s sacrifice. And what should be sacrificed is not always obvious.

Yet there is a distance between us and the three characters, a separation—perhaps it is Lindsay-Abaire’s comic facility?—that makes it difficult for us to make a connection with them. And the epilogue (fraught with its own staging problems) casually imparts a key piece of information that many of us might miss.

I like the misdirection of an expensive-looking prop in a precarious spot that doesn’t end its stage time with a crash.

  • Good People, by David Lindsay-Abaire, directed by Jackie Maxwell, Arena Stage Kreeger Theater, Washington