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"Good People" at the Kavinoky

photo by Simon Faber

Among the most ambiguous social concepts are the ideas of the “nice” and the “good.” Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire plunges headlong into this uncertainty in his play, Good People, about Margie, a working-class South Boston woman down on her luck. When lateness costs her the job that allows her to support her disabled adult daughter, she seeks help from a former boyfriend who has escaped the poverty of the old neighborhood by becoming a physician.

The doubt that social and economic inequality embeds in the idea of “good” has fascinated writers from Bertolt Brecht, whose Good Person of Szechwan found pure goodness to be impossible, to Victor Hugo who sent Jean Valjean on an epic journey through a life of crime and good deeds, beginning with the theft of a loaf of bread. Lindsay-Abaire has complicated the equation with a tough “Southie” sense of altruism and community.

The original Broadway production of this fascinating and nuanced script won a Tony Award for Frances McDormand, who played Margie. At the Kavinoky Theatre, Eileen Dugan embodies the role with similar sensitivity and spirit.

Directed by Robert Waterhouse, the production also featured the formidable talents of Anne Gayley as Margie’s hard-as-nails landlady, Dottie; April A. Jones as the physician’s wife; Lisa Ludwig as Margie’s friend and confidante, Jean; Peter Palmisano as the former boyfriend; and Geoff Pictor as the youthful supervisor who has to fire Margie.

The play is a model of emotional and narrative economy. Margie makes two visits into the upper-middle-class world of her boyfriend from years before—into his office, and into his home. On each occasion we see the enormity of the divisions between them: the first a difference of economic class, the second a difference in ethical fiber. We also see, however, a commonality between them. Margie knows this man all too well.

The Kavinoky production highlights the strengths of this powerful and engaging play with great efficiency and heart. Among the most memorable moments are the comic deflections that help the Southies endure against difficult odds and continue to live lives that are “good,” even if they are not always comfortable.