In his 2011 play Good People, David Lindsay-Abaire confronts the knotty question of class in America with humor and insight. As the action opens, Margie (pronounced with a hard “g”, everything about Margie is a little hard) is fired from her undignified work as a clerk at a dollar store. She’s been late too many times, and Margie’s tough mouth makes everyone around her nervous. Even as she’s being fired, Margie takes shots at the manager’s thieving mother, her co-workers, the manager’s favoritism for a girlfriend who’s also a clerk, the potential girlfriend’s ethnicity, and the manliness of the manager’s visits to the local bingo game. It’s not that Margie is wrong, but she’s more than a little bigoted and her filter just doesn’t work at all.
What makes this play work is that Margie, despite all her bad qualities, is sympathetic. The reason that she’s always late for work is that she’s trying to support an adult daughter who functions like a child, and taking care of her or maintaining a household on an insufficient salary often makes it difficult for Margie to get to work. Margie works hard, stands at the center of her social group, and displays an intelligence and humor that shine through her anger.
A conference with her South Boston neighborhood cronies, along with a healthy dose of desperation, convinces Margie that her best hope for work is Mike, a long ago high school boyfriend who escaped Southie and has become a doctor. That leads to confrontations at his office and ultimately at his luxury home, where the story culminates in a scene between Margie, Mike, and his young African-American wife. It’s there that Margie’s anger and bigotry, Mike and Kate’s well-intentioned inability to understand the limitations placed on Margie by poverty, family, and gender, and the sheer awkwardness of the situation lead to some sparkling, darkly comic conflict.
On the stage, the role of Margie has already been taken up by actresses such as Frances McDormand (who won a Tony for her portrayal) and Jane Kaczmarek. It’s an exceptional part, one that actresses who can blend comedy and drama will covet. It makes for entertaining reading too, leavening exploration of important, relevant issues with a hearty dose of humor.
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