Good People was nominated for Best Play at the 2011 Tony’s. It’s damn good writing by David Lindsay-Abaire, and the Australian premiere by Red Stitch made me remember why this company is so damn good.
Margie (Andrea Swifte) lives in “Southie”, a poor Boston neighbourhood where she’s just been fired from her job at a dollar store by the son of an old friend (Rory Kelly). With a disabled adult daughter, a cow of landlady (Olga Makeeva) and no jobs around because of the recession, she’s running out of choices, until she meets her teenage boyfriend (Dion Mills), who’s now a wealthy doctor and married to a younger woman. He got out of Southie, so maybe he can help.
Lindsay-Abaire’s script is full of screaming subtext and as allegiances change, it surprises as it holds onto its secrets. His characters are not nice people. Each struggles with happiness and is faced with wondering if life really could have been different.
Director Kaarin Fairfax grasps the tone perfectly by ensuring that the dark humour hurts. It’s too easy to laugh at people who are answer “How’s the wine?” with “How the f*ck should I know”, but the success of this production is that we’re allowed to the see her desperation and understand why Margie behaves in ways that may be unthinkable to someone who can afford a theatre ticket and the time to indulge in such a middle-class pastime. There’s a moment when a cheap trinket is broken and she yells, “I paid for that” and at once there’s nothing funny about breaking something ugly and worthless. Fairfax ensures that the story and characters are more important than the performances, which allows us to be in this world without judgement.
Nonetheless, Good People is peopled by exceptionally good people. Swifte never lets us feel sorry for Margie, and Jane Montgomery Griffiths as Margie’s mutton-as-lamb mate and Alexandria Steffensen as the new young wife bring understanding and complexity to characters that could easily be jokes.
Good People is a terrific start to Red Stitch’s 2012 season.