Fulton's 'Good People' leads to deeper meaning By Jane Holahan, Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
"Good People," which opened Thursday at the Fulton, is a good play. Time will tell us if it might even be a great one.
Rich with ideas, humor and intriguing characters, it has a lot to say about the way we live our lives and how our choices -- good and bad -- affect us. Why do some people make it and others don't?
In this tough economy, that's a question that reverberates strongly with all of us.
This fine production is done in partnership with the Walnut Street Theatre of Philadelphia and features a cast of Walnut Street veterans under the direction of the theater's artistic director, Bernard Havard. (It opens there March 12.)
The play, written by David Lindsay-Abaire, might be about class struggles on the surface, but dig a little deeper and it's about how we treat each other, about the choices we have and how our success is often due to people to whom we never give credit.
The thing is, the way the play is constructed makes it difficult to explain that last sentence. It isn't until the final scene when we fully understand how those ideas apply to Margie Walsh (Julie Czarnecki), the protagonist of the play.
When we meet Margie (pronounced with a hard g) she is getting fired from her cashier job at the Dollar Store by Stevie (Jered McLenigan), a young man she has known since he was a kid.
Neighborhood connections are a big part of "Good People."
We are in South Boston -- Southie -- and losing this job spells devastation for Margie, who has a mentally disabled adult daughter and no financial security.
Her landlady, Dottie (Sharon Alexander), is her friend, but she will throw her out of her apartment the minute she can't pay the rent.
Dottie and Margie's caustic friend, Jean (Denise Whelan), are humorous companions, offering her support and egging on her frustrations.
They like to play bingo together, and the comments fly fast and furiously.
Jean, who serves to push Margie into things, tells her that she ran into an old Southie friend, Mike (Dan Olmstead), who escaped the neighborhood and is now a wealthy fertility doctor.
Maybe Mike can give Margie a job at his office.
So Margie meets up with Mike, whom she hasn't seen in about 30 years. The scene is fraught with tension and -- like the rest of the play -- humor.
We eventually discover that they dated for a time before he went off to college. The tension is not about romantic feelings, but about the very different worlds they inhabit now and their feelings about their lives.
Margie pushes buttons -- accusing him of being "lace curtain Irish" and forgetting where he came from.
Mike is defensive and frustrated with Margie's attitude. He escaped Southie, why couldn't she?
Margie gets herself invited to a party Mike and his wife, Kate (Danielle G. Herbert), are holding that weekend. Someone there might have a job for her.
But Mike calls later to tell her the party has been canceled. Margie doesn't believe him and goes to the party anyway.
Turns out it has indeed been canceled, but Kate ushers Margie in, eager to hear about her husband's dangerous past.
Almost the entire second act takes place at Mike's beautiful home, where Margie, Mike and Kate sit down for a fascinating conversation about Mike's past, Margie's future and Kate's privileged upbringing.
The laughs are loud and frequent throughout this extended scene, but there is plenty of food for thought, too.
Lindsay-Abaire creates real, complex people, and this wonderful cast brings them fully to life.
Czarnecki does an especially fine job showing us the many facets of Margie, peeling off the layers while still maintaining a sharp and tightly wound character.
While this is Margie's story, the entire cast is excellent, from Alexander's hilarious comments as Dottie, to Olmstead's wounded pride and Herbert's almost crazed passive aggressiveness.
And Whelan, who has been in a number of shows at the Fulton, is terrific as the sharp-tongued Jean.
It's good to see set designer Robert Klingelhoefer back on the Fulton stage. He created a smart rotating set that oozes with atmosphere, going from the poverty of Southie to the smooth gentility of Mike's home, and uses the stage well.
Colleen Grady does a spot-on job with the costumes, and Havard's direction is sure and steady throughout.
One word of advice: Listen closely to that final scene, when Jean and Margie are talking. It holds the key to the rest of "Good People."
"Good People" runs through Feb. 17 at the Fulton, 12 N. Prince St. 394-7133.