You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Good People

If "Good People" isn't a hit for Manhattan Theater Club, there is no justice in the land.

Jean - Becky Ann Baker
Stevie - Patrick Carroll
Mike - Tate Donovan
Kate - Renee Elise
Goldsberry Margaret - Frances McDormand
Dottie - Estelle Parsons

If “Good People” isn’t a hit for Manhattan Theater Club, there is no justice in the land. David Lindsay-Abaire pays his respects to his old South Boston neighborhood with this tough and tender play about the insurmountable class divide between those who make it out of this blue-collar Irish neighborhood and those who find themselves left behind. The scrappy characters have tremendous appeal, and the moral dilemma they grapple with — is it strength of character or just a few lucky breaks that determines a person’s fate? — holds special significance in today’s harsh economic climate.

To put a human face on this existential conundrum, Lindsay-Abaire (who took the Pulitzer Prize for drama with “Rabbit Hole”) gives us Margaret Walsh (the astonishing Frances McDormand), a middle-aged single mother with a mentally challenged daughter to support on a cashier’s salary. McDormand has an uncanny affinity for women who work hard to make a living and suck it up without complaint. As one of those exhausted but stubborn stoics, Margie walks right into her arms.

Popular on Variety

With the local factories gone south and no one in this depressed economy hiring unskilled workers, Margie panics when she loses her job at the Dollar Store. (Patrick Carroll gives a sweetheart of a perf as her baby boss.)

But her lousy job is the only thing that Margie loses. Between scribe’s warm portrayal and McDormand’s big-hearted performance, this indomitable woman manages to hang onto her dignity, her fighting spirit, and the sardonic sense of humor that the natives of this insular community use to thumb their noses at the outside world.

Saturday night bingo at the parish church where Margie takes her troubles to her friends is a great place to hear that mocking laughter bounce off the walls and to watch the Southie sisterhood in action.

Margie’s best friend Jean may look sweet, in Becky Ann Baker’s smartly underplayed perf, but this tough waitress plays dirty. Margie’s brash landlady Dottie, a foul-mouthed delight in Estelle Parsons’ raucous perf, considers herself a friend, but if Margie doesn’t pay this month’s rent, she’ll toss her out on the street without batting an eye.

Inspired helming of Daniel Sullivan (“The Merchant of Venice,” “Rabbit Hole”) keeps such a tight focus in these hilarious bingo scenes that no one can peel their eyes away from Margie and her posse. (All shrewdly dressed by David Zinn, right down to the glossy lipstick and gelled hairdo that Dottie wears with her glitzy outfits.)

The ladies may sound heartless, as they cheerfully gossip about whose husband is in jail and whose kid took an overdose. But they’re only working on the thick hide you need to survive here, and they really mean to be helpful when they advise Margie to stop being so noble and toughen up — unless she wants to end up like their old classmate Cookie McDermott, who became a bag lady and died on the street.

Dottie, that hard-nosed pragmatist, urges Margie to stuff her pride and take an assembly-line job at the Gillette factory. Canny Jean suggests more desperate measures, never mind that they’re dishonest.

When Margie takes Jean’s advice and puts the bite on an old boyfriend who recently moved back to Boston, she sets in motion the plot mechanism that will turn their awkward reunion into a bitter class war. Mike Dillon (tamed, but not emasculated, in Tate Donovan’s civilized perf) never looked back after he left home. Now a successful endocrinologist with a lovely young wife (a smart one, too, in Renee Elise Goldsberry’s confident perf) and a swell house on Chestnut Hill (a tasteful showplace, in John Lee Beatty’s mouthwatering design), he wants no reminders of the good old days growing up rough in the projects.

But Mike is no match for Margie, who is determined to get an invitation to his birthday party so she can canvass his rich friends for work. Margie may be desperate, but all she wants is a job. Mike’s need is more fundamental. He’s desperate for reassurance that he’s still “good people.”

Mike makes an earnest case for his accomplishments as a self-made man, but he’s been away from the old neighborhood so long, he’s forgotten how to fight like a street kid. Margie’s fighting style is all verbal thrust and dirty tricks: the nasty dig, the insincere compliment, and that sly maneuver of sticking the knife in and backing off with a smile and a disingenuous “Just kidding” — or, even better, “I’m just bustin’ balls.”

Lindsay-Abaire not only knows the moves, he’s at home with the pungent South Boston idiom and its hidden meanings. When Margie pulls the “lace curtain Irish” punch on Mike, she’s hitting way below the belt — accusing him of forgetting where he came from and refusing to acknowledge how much of his success he owes to other people.

The way they see it on the streets of Southie, that’s a lesson to be learned the hard way by anyone who thinks he’s “good people.”

Good People

Samuel J. Friedman Theater; 650 seats; $121 top

Production: A Manhattan Theater Club presentation of a play in two acts by David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed by Daniel Sullivan.

Creative: Sets, John Lee Beatty; costumes, David Zinn; lighting, Pat Collins; sound, Jill BC DuBoff; dialect coach, Charlotte Fleck; production stage manager, Roy Harris. Reviewed Feb. 25, 2011. Opened March 3. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast: Jean - Becky Ann Baker
Stevie - Patrick Carroll
Mike - Tate Donovan
Kate - Renee Elise
Goldsberry Margaret - Frances McDormand
Dottie - Estelle Parsons

More Legit

  • The Ocean at the End of

    'The Ocean at the End of the Lane': Theater Review

    Is Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” a story of childhood for adults or an adult view of the world for children? As director Katy Rudd’s astonishingly theatrical production of Joel Horward’s adaptation resoundingly proves, the answer is: Both. Although wisely recommended for audiences above the age of twelve – the [...]

  • Warner Bros. Pictures trailer launch event

    Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jon M. Chu Tease 'In the Heights' Movie

    Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Jon M. Chu and star Anthony Ramos took the train to the top of the world to offer a sneak peek of “In the Heights,” Warner Bros.’ big-screen adaptation of Miranda’s (other) hit musical. “I’m thrilled we’re here, and I’m thrilled we’re uptown,” Miranda rhapsodized to a packed crowd at a cozy [...]

  • Lucas Hnath

    Listen: Lucas Hnath's Own Play Gives Him Nightmares

    Tony-nominated playwright Lucas Hnath (“A Doll’s House, Part 2”) has two shows in New York this season: a monologue based on the real-life experiences of his mother, and a ghost story. One of them gave him nightmares — but it wasn’t the ghost story. Listen to this week’s podcast below: He explained why on the [...]

  • Greater Clements review

    'Greater Clements': Theater Review

    The American Dream and all of its values have taken quite a beating lately. Director and screenwriter Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” Bruce Springsteen’s recent “Western Stars” album, even Ralph Lauren in the documentary “Very Ralph” show us how this country and all of its totems and merits have gone asunder. No dreams are more crushed, [...]

  • Harry Connick Jr Walk of Fame

    Harry Connick Jr. on Returning to Broadway

    Harry Connick Jr. is headed back to Broadway with a three-week limited engagement celebration of legendary songwriter Cole Porter. The actor and musician came up with the concept for the show and is also directing. “I love Broadway and if I had two careers one of them would be only Broadway just because I love [...]

  • Jagged Little Pill review

    Broadway Review: 'Jagged Little Pill'

    Nearly 25 years after “Jagged Little Pill” hit the shelves of record stores, Alanis Morissette’s innovative 1995 album has arrived on Broadway under the muscular direction of Diane Paulus, who launched this galvanic production at the American Repertory Theater. The show’s supportive book by screenwriter Diablo Cody interprets Morissette’s musical idiom as a universal domestic [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content