Mastrogeorge Theatre's Good People

This production of David Lindsay-Abaire's play gives us a close look at the folks inside Southie – and why some never leave

Nicholaus Weindel as Stevie (l) and Carol Hickey as Margie in Good People

The decision to attend a birthday party would not ordinarily seem to be a weighty matter. But when Margie resolves to go to the birthday party for Mike in David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People, the choice has the ominous import of one in a Greek tragedy – you feel in your bones it's fated to go horribly wrong. Mike, you see, comes from the same working-class Boston neighborhood as Margie, and they knew each other growing up – they were even an item briefly back in the day – but Mike made it out of Southie and Margie didn't. She's still slogging away there in middle age, caring for an adult daughter who's disabled and desperately seeking employment, having just been sacked from the dollar store where she was a cashier. Margie suspects that, given all that, she wouldn't really be welcome at Mike's tony Chestnut Hill home, a notion that's reinforced by a message from Mike that the party's been canceled. She's sure that he's lying to keep her away, so she determines to go anyway and catch him in the falsehood, exposing his class snobbery.

That this resolution to confront her old flame invokes in us an "Oh no, don't do that" response owes much to Lindsay-Abaire's script, which pulls from the playwright's own background in Southie to fashion the characters' richly detailed world. It shows us enough of the hard-knock, never-catch-a-break, been-down-so-long-it-looks-like-up-to-me life there that we get where Margie is coming from, what drives her suspicion of Mike and her need to get up in his face: He got out, and for someone like Margie who didn't, getting out is both a white whale she's been chasing her whole life and a move she looks down on because those who leave Southie stop being "good people." The conflicting impulses that Lindsay-Abaire builds into the character – and into her friends Dottie, Jean, and Stevie; and Mike and his wife Kate – make their actions less predictable and them more fascinating.

But there's more that keeps us watching them in this debut effort from Mastrogeorge Theatre, a company developed out of the Carol Hickey Acting Studio. The actors here, under the skillful direction of Robert Walden, have found a kinship with these Bostonians and an easy rapport with one another that makes them credible as longtime neighbors, co-workers, chums. They tease each other in the offhand manner of folks with extensive histories, who don't need to work hard to push an old pal's buttons, and the quick glances they exchange when reacting to one another's comments speak volumes. The coziness of the performance space (which holds just 31 seats) serves this low-key, intimate approach well, helping us feel that we're just one bingo table away from these people as they mark their cards or close enough to pour ourselves a cuppa joe in Margie's kitchen. And it allows us to catch every subtle push-and-pull going on within Carol Hickey's Margie. You can see in her eyes that she's frustrated by her lot in life but not yet embittered by it. All she wants is for the chips to fall her way just once, and if God won't give her a break, well, she's just desperate enough to try to make one of her own – even if it means doing something that she knows isn't right. As portrayed by Hickey, Margie is far from perfect; she's a walking contradiction who makes poor decisions for bad reasons. Still, you don't want to see her brought low for it like some hubristic heroine in a Greek tragedy, because that isn't who this character is, and because Hickey shows us the heart in her and the spirit, and because when you weigh all of it together, Margie is good people.

Good People

Mastrogeorge Theatre, 130 Pedernales Ste. 318-B
Through June 4
Running time: 2 hr., 10 min.

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Mastrogeorge Theatre, David Lindsay-Abaire, Robert Walden, Carol Hickey

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