We all come from somewhere. And sometimes, we carry more of it with us than we realize — even if we never leave.
It also can be important to understand where people are coming from. It drives their perceptions and attitudes, and, often, their motivations and actions. Take Margie, for instance, a character in Good People, the TheatreSquared production that offered a preview performance Thursday night at Nadine Baum Studios.
Simply chalking her up as an everyday, working-class girl from South Boston, or Southie, would be doing her a disservice. She’s too complex to be viewed simply, and those intricacies are revealed as the show progresses.
Good People is the fourth show in TheatreSquared’s eighth season, and it’s a very good one. Written by David Lindsay-Abaire, it was voted the Best Play of 2011 by the New York Drama Critics Circle, and it was nominated for a 2011 Tony Award for Best Play.
Lindsay-Abaire set the story in his childhood neighborhood of Southie, which also serves as the setting for movies such as Good Will Hunting. He seems to reinforce stereotypes of this traditionally Irish-American neighborhood — not exploiting them, but rather honoring them through a true portrayal. Thanks to dialect coaching from Kathy Logelin, this cast easily brings the audience into that neighborhood and the characters’ world.
Amy Herzberg directs this production, which features Rebecca Harris, a Fayetteville native, as Margie. Harris was also one of Herzberg’s students from her teaching days at a Texas university. In addition to other film, television and theater credits, Harris has appeared in three previous TheatreSquared productions, including Bad Dates, which Herzberg also directed during the company’s inaugural season.
In a little more than two hours, this wonderful cast breathed wonderful life into this show Thursday night, entrancing the audience with their world. The story starts in the alley behind the dollar store, where Margie learns from her boss, Stevie (Kieran Cronin), that he has to fire her from her cashier job. She’s been tardy more than one too many times, usually because her babysitter hasn’t shown up on time.
As a teenager, Margie got pregnant and gave birth to a daughter with disabilities. The daughter is grown now, but she still needs someone to watch over her. Though an important character in the story, the daughter is not represented by an actor. Harris, as Margie, beautifully carries the impact of that relationship in her body language, her facial expressions and her attitude.
As the story progresses, Margie wonders why she never could, or never did, escape from her neighborhood. She wonders what her life might have been like if she had.
The dynamic between Margie, her landlord, Dottie (Shirley Hughes), and her longtime friend, Jean (Lauren Halyard), is hysterical. They enjoy chatting over coffee and playing bingo together, and they curse like sailors. Margie often says “pardon my French” when she curses, somehow justifying her action. In fact, these characters easily sling politically incorrect slang and vulgarities. That’s part of what makes them so authentic. Their frustrations are sincere, their attempts to cope with life are genuine, their successes and failures are hard wrought.
Margie reconnects with Mikey, a guy she dated briefly at the end of high school. He left the neighborhood, went to college and became a fertility doctor. He escaped that world. He did what Margie did not do.
Margie shows up at his clinic, 30 years after they last saw each other, and she asks him for a job. She then gets herself invited to a party at his house in a fancy Boston suburb, hoping to network with the guests to find work.
True to her raising, Margie is tough, stubborn, mouthy and can be a trickster. However, that moxie often masks the vulnerability, fear and sometimes hopelessness she feels underneath.
Even after Mikey called to tell Margie the party was cancelled, Margie shows up at his house and encounters his wife, Kate, who grew up in Georgetown, the upscale Washington, D.C., suburb. Their conversation is captivating, as Mikey still straddles his two worlds more than he realized. The sometimes blurry line between those two worlds becomes even clearer in this scene.
Sean Patrick Reilly, who plays Mikey, is wonderful, by the way. In addition to theater work, he has many television and movies credits, including the 1996 movie Sleepers. And Kate, played by Margaret Odette, is a delightful complement and counterbalance to Reilly’s Mikey. She’s gracious to Margie and tries to relate to her, yet she vigorously protects her family, despite some real weaknesses in her marriage.
So much is revealed in the second act, about the characters and their histories, and their willingness and reluctance to tell the truth to themselves and to those around them. They explore and express how the choices they’ve made have impacted their lives. They talk about how, depending on the choice made, just one moment in one’s life can have a domino effect. And, they explore how so many things in life are less about choice than they are about luck and timing.
In addition to the fabulous cast in this show, the design of the set is ingenious. From that first alley scene, the set is peeled back and replaced with new layers. It’s manipulated in such a clever way, becoming a modest apartment kitchen, a community bingo hall, a sleek doctor’s office and, in the second act, the classy living room in Mikey and Kate’s home.
Performances of Good People continue today through Sunday and each Thursday through Sunday through March 9 in Nadine Baum Studios. For tickets, call (479) 443-5600 or visit the website at theatre2.org.