- OnStage Los Angeles Critic
LOS ANGELES CA - What exactly does it mean to be a “good person”? This question, and many others, are pondered in playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s smart, insightful Good People, currently in a fantastic production at LA’s Hudson Guild Theatre.
Good People debuted on Broadway in 2011, receiving two Tony nominations. A dramedy, it tells the story of Margaret “Margie” Walsh (Kia Hellman), a struggling single mother living in the blue-collar “Southie” neighborhood of Boston. Mary gets fired from yet another minimum wage job for being late, an issue that has plagued her because her adult daughter has mental disabilities that require round-the-clock care. With her nosy landlady, Dottie (Marsha Morgan) breathing down her neck for the rent check, Margie is perhaps more desperate than ever. When she learns from her friend Jean (Laura House) that her high school fling, Mike (Shayne Anderson), now a doctor and a Southie success story, has moved back to town, Margie must decide whether to revisit old baggage for the possibility of finally catching a “lucky” break.
David Lindsay-Abaire, best known for Rabbit Hole, the 2007 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for drama, is a master at conceiving well-rounded, surprising characters. Everyone in this play, down to Margie’s boss, Stevie (Tyler Meridith) and Mike’s sophisticated wife, Kate (Keiana Richard), is complicated—this piece deals in shades of gray rather than black and white. Your opinion of who the titular “good people” are will change throughout the six scenes, and by the end, you still won’t be so sure.
Margie, especially, is a fascinating protagonist because while she refuses to be a victim, she is no heroine, either. She’s a real person who understands the effect the choices she’s made have had on her life. While she strongly believes in the concept of luck, she is very self aware. Her world view conflicts with Mike’s—he believes his success and ability to leave the neighborhood had nothing to do with luck and everything to do with hard work and determination. Many of the characters in this play choose to believe whatever they need to in order to be able to sleep at night, and interesting questions are raised about the impact of both choices and fate in deciding the outcome of our lives.
This is the kind of play that is just as impactful at the 43-seat Hudson Guild Theatre as I’m sure it was on Broadway. The characters are vivid enough that they speak for themselves, and Christine Dunford’s smart direction makes the most of the small space while letting the performances shine. Hellman’s performance is a large part of what makes Margie so compelling. You immediately want to like her and root for her, but she can sometimes make you just a little uncomfortable. As someone who went to college in Boston, I greatly enjoyed all of the in-jokes and references. The Southie neighborhood, where Lindsay-Abaire actually grew up, is practically a seventh character in the show, and provides a great deal of context for the characters’ experiences.
Good People is intelligent, thought-provoking, real, and a reminder that there is no one measure of success. Just because someone has degrees and a fancy home does not mean they are any happier, and just because someone else might not know how this month’s bills will get paid does not necessarily mean they are struggling or lacking. You can’t judge a book by its cover, and sometimes you find the truly good people where you least expect them.
Good People runs at the Hudson Guild Theatre (6539 Santa Monica Blvd) through June 5th with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at www.plays411.com/goodpeople.