by Hugh Hunter
The award-winning “Good People” (2011), written by David Lindsay-Abaire, is now running at Stagecrafters. Directed by David Flagg, the drama focuses on the role that class plays in our daily lives.
The dramatic premise of “Good People” is thin. Margaret is a working class girl from hardscrabble South Boston. She loses her menial labor job, and for the rest of the play she is desperate to find new work.
As Margaret, Jen Allegra sports an unaffected “Southie” accent (accent coach Donna McFadden). Her Margaret is a merry-go-round of emotional tumult, alternatively warmhearted, sly, resentful, funny, generous, spiteful and proud to the point of self-destruction.
Margaret’s struggle with emotional control really reflects the powerlessness of her blue-collar background. Set designer Scott Killinger gets a workout as we watch Margaret spin her wheels through a slew of environments — a Dollar Store alleyway, a Bingo hall and a posh suburb called Chestnut Hill (not “that” Chestnut Hill, the one outside Boston).
But the more Margaret thrashes around, the more she stays in place. She is stuck in her class position without a job and ends up back at the Bingo hall. They call out the number she has been waiting to hear, but it is now a new game, and she no longer holds the winning card.
“Good People” has some problems. In the opening scene Margaret pleads with her boss Steve (Matthew C. Thompson) not to fire her, and it gets your attention. Later scenes with old friends Dottie (Mare Mikalic) and Jean (Lauren Rozensky Flanagan) give you a naturalistic sense of the South Boston milieu, but they are not dramatic.
The play really gets going in Act II when Margaret crashes the Chestnut Hill birthday party of Mike, an old “Southie” boyfriend. Mike is now a successful doctor and likes to argue that individual choice, not luck or fate, determines how people end up. But in the skilled hands of actor John Reardon, you sense Mike is full of bluster.
Dramatic intensity picks up as the buried secrets of Margaret and Mike surface. There are also some fine satirical touches, as when Mike’s African-American wife Kate (Sara Osi Scott) mistakes Margaret for the hired help. It is rare for an American playwright to suggest class is more important than race.
Since the early work of Arthur Miller, there has been little in American theater that explores the impact of power and class on human relations. I will always remember Stagecrafters’ fine production of Miller’s “The Price” a few years ago. (John Reardon starred in that show also.)
“Good People” is stepping into a void and falls short of greatness. But the strength of the production is that although it is a drama about the idea of class, you never doubt that Margaret and Mike are real people.
Stagecrafters is located at 8130 Germantown Ave. “Good People” will run through June 28. Reservations available at 215-247-8881.