American Stage’s first full-scale production of the new season and the first in its In Search Of … America play series, Good People delves into class differences and the struggle to make ends meet in South Boston.
With a spoonful of salty-sweet humor, Good People makes an all-too-relevant examination of The American Dream — how much more does it have to do with hard work than it does straight-up good luck. The 2011 play is the first hand-picked production by new American Stage Artistic Director Stephanie Gularte, who also directs this production.
“I find David Lindsay-Abaire’s play to be one of the most exciting plays of the past 10 years,” Gularte says. “It is such a fulfilling journey for audiences because it is funny and intense and surprising and ultimately lends itself to some great post-show conversation.” (Read more about about Gularte’s edgy and exciting play choices for the 2016-17 American Stage season in Creative Pinellas’ revamped web magazine next month.)
Other reasons to see Good People:
Stevie (Britt Michael Gordon) awkwardly fires Margie from her job at the Dollar Store. Photo by Kara Goldberg.
1.) Good People effectively shifts from sassy humor to intense drama: When Dollar Store manager Stevie (Britt Michael Gordon) fires Margie (Rebecca Dines), an old acquaintance of his mother and mom of a mentally challenged adult, Margie will try anything except working at the Gillette factory — even if it means hitting up Mike, a high school flame (Peter Reardon), who pops up at a local fundraiser after a long absence from the neighborhood.
Vickie Daignault (Jean), Rebecca Dines (Margie) and Bonnie Agan (Dottie) engage in amusing tete a tete. Photo by Kara Goldberg.
From Margie’s apartment to the bingo hall, we’re treated to feisty exchanges between daffy landlady Dottie (another great turn by local actor Bonnie Agan) and Margie’s best friend, Jean (played hilariously by transplant Vickie Daignaualt). There’s something a little shifty about Dottie, and Jean doesn’t let up on her with that tough-as-nails Irish sarcasm that doubles as a coping mechanism in South Boston, and Southies like Jean wield it like a billy club.
Jean suggests that Margie approach her erstwhile preppy Romeo. Margie resists at firsts and then consents.
Peter Reardon (Mike) and Rebecca Dines (Margie) play an awkward game of catch-up. Photo by Kara Goldberg.
Margie unceremoniously barges into Mike’s office. (Mike: “I’m a reproductive endocrinologist.” Margie: “I don’t know what you just said, but I just got a little excited.”) Mike treats her with both nostalgic affection and awkwardness as he reluctantly invites her to birthday dinner party in his tony Crescent Hill home. Kudos, by the way, to Gularte and the actors for making this difficult and highly nuanced interplay work.
In Act Two, we meet Mike’s wife, Kate (played exquisitely Renata Eastlick). She’s a poised, educated foil to off-the-cuff dropout Margie. As Mike and Margie go down memory lane and some uncomfortable and upsetting subjects arise involving a past incident, we see Kate tested, but her integrity remains intact. Life goes on after this encounter, but a realization that Mike, Kate and Margie are no longer the same hovers over the performance.
2.) Good People stays on course without avoiding complex subject matter: South Boston has a widely publicized history of racial tension. The neighborhood violently resisted school busing in the mid-1970s, and in Good People, we learn that one of the central characters was involved in bullying incident that casts a pall on his character. Pulitzer finalist Lindsay-Abaire handles some horrific revelations with the appropriate weightiness needed but is never too heavy-handed. Ambivalence, wrong choices and unfair advantages come into play, too, as the central Southies deal with how they and their lives changed after high school.
Peter Reardon (Mike), Rebecca Dines (Margie) and Renata Eastlick (Kate). Photo by Kara Goldberg.
3.) Impressive lighting, stage management and set changes: With backdrops on casters and nimble prop changes, American Stage takes us from graffiti-sprayed back alley to kitschy 1970s apartment to bingo hall to doctor’s office to a luxurious upscale home. Credit goes to Gularte for both her overall direction and sound design, scenic designer Frank Chavez, lighting designer Dan Covey and the production designer/manager Jerid Fox and stage manager Rachel Harrison.
4.) The on-point performances: The entire cast kicks ass. Rebecca Dines gives us a Margie that’s part Laverne Di Fazio, part Sally Field in Norma Rae. Though she’s endured a great deal of misfortune, she’s no martyr. Margie’s flaws make her more interesting and endearing, Of course, a great performance helps in this regard, too. Dines, an Australian-born Equity/SAG actor who played in the same role with Gularte in a past production of Good People at the director’s former home, the Capitol Stage Company, conveys the spunkiness and frustration of her character without making Margie too cartoonish. She, and the other ladies pull off a convincing Southie accent, and Reardon, an Irish-American Mass. native, provides just the right shade of a brogue covered up by decades of yuppie shame.
5.) Good People stays with you long after the play is over: American Stage’s production strikes a chord for anyone who’s felt like a misfit in America’s class hierarchy or has experienced a disconnect between their potential vs. their achievements. Lindsay-Abaire’s script reminds us that our society places too much value on appearances, and that it’s the job of a great stage play like Good People to excavate the inconvenient truths that lurk beneath our most commonly held perceptions.
Good People runs through Oct. 2 at American Stage, 163 Third St. N., St. Petersburg. Visit americanstage.org for showtimes and ticket info.