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Restaurant lunch highlights:

Art & About: Good People

“Welcome to Southey, a Boston neighborhood where a night on the town means a few rounds of bingo, where this month’s paycheck covers last month’s bills, and where Margie Walsh has just been let go from yet another job.”

Lace curtain choices come hard in Southey

By Mike Sanford, GLOB Editor

GLOB Content editor Lynn Dirk contributed to this review.

The Hippodrome Theater kicked off the 2014 season with Good People by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, a Pulitzer Prize winning study of life for those perceived to be less fortunate among us.

Director and Hippodrome Artistic Director, Lauren Caldwell, takes the audience on an odyssey of shoulda, coulda, woulda that left me with more questions than answers, questions like:  What is going on in those big city tenements where the disadvantaged live?  What kind of choices do you make when it appears the world is against you?

Good People starts with Margie (strangely pronounced Mar-gee rather than Mar-jee), played by Sara Morsey (at top, left), trying -- unsuccessfully -- to talk her way out of being fired from her Dollar Store cashier position in South Boston.   This desperate situation sets the stage for Margie, who looks to be at least 50-something, to try and find another job, doubly important since she has a completely disabled 20-something daughter.

At a weekly Southey bingo game, Margie is convinced by her friends that an opportunity for a new job lies with an old boy friend from high school who escaped the Southey tenements and now resides “uptown” as a successful doctor – in other words, he’s now “lace curtains”.  Margie decides she should take a chance and visit this high school summer fling, Mike, played by Kevin Rainsberger (top, right) and see if she might find work with the doctor.

Mihai Ciupe's set design was a road map for this tragicomic journey through life on the outh side of Boston.  The location for each scene was in place on the stage throughout the play.  The journey starts out with the only 2nd level scene (right), so her firing occurs above the stage, almost as a literal dark cloud hanging over all the other scenes.  The bingo game was a simple church hall table and several scenes occur there.

The bingo games, always attended by Margie’s pals Dottie (above right), played by Cristine McCurdo Wallace, and Jean (above middle), played by Nell Page, were a funny, entertaining  look at friends making a dreary existence as good as it can be.  Kudos to Nell Page for enlivening her character with louder-than-anyone else, always-making-her-point animated Boston attitude. 

In fact, this is a play of attitudes as everyone in South Boston just tries to make it.  Lucky breaks and good choices are hard to come by.  It’s a dog-eat-dog world in Southey, and these ladies weren’t about to be eaten.

Speaking of attitudes, this review is being done by an old manager/ supervisor, turned GLOB Master.  I believe I am an empathetic individual trying to understand the human condition, but I admit that sometimes my supervisory attitude slips out.   The fact that the play started out with Margie being fired for being chronically late probably set me up for a certain attitude in my review of this very well-done play.

I quickly had the sense that Margie was a survivor even though life continually served up lemons to her. She’s seen it all at least once.  With a quick wit and sharp mind, Margie easily turned the tables in her conversations with her supervisor and  the doctor by asking how they felt about Margie’s condition.

From her first conversation with her supervisor Stevie, played by Matthew Lindsay, to discussions with Mike and Mike’s wife Kate, played by Felecia Harrelson, Margie was quick to weave a passive aggressive approach to gaining a reward of putting the other character off balance and feeling empathy for Margie.

This "attitude" leads Mike to describe Margie as a master of passive aggression when she shows up uninvited at his modest but expensive-looking office.

>  While discussing her termination with Stevie:  “And I wouldn’t have to be late if I didn’t have to beg someone to watch my daughter.  And I wouldn’t have to beg someone if I could pay someone, but you’re making that very difficult Stevie."

> Explaining to Mike why she wouldn’t fit in the office: "Anyway, that’s what I meant.  She and I wouldn’t have gotten along, I don’t think, so it’s probably for the best you don’t have a job for me.  I’m not fancy enough for this office.  You’re all lace–curtain Irish you know."

> Justifying to Mike why he’s the lucky Southey:  "You were luckier than most people, that’s all.  You were smart.  You had a dad that pushed you. You had some advantages.  So I don’t know if I’d be complaining if I were you."

The second half of the play builds quickly to a crescendo of verbal finger pointing and back handed snipes between Mike and Margie.

But with the playwright at her side, Margie’s mission is to point out that luck and the support of a whole community played as big a part as anything in Mike's success — most notably a father who watched out for him on the tough, racially charged streets, a father she did not have herself.  But Margie also reveals her own contribution to Mike's success.

Mike ‘s wife was fascinatingly inserted into the dialogue as a Greek chorus-like figure to lead the verbal assault between Mike and Margie to a surprising eventual conclusion.

Gainesville Lunch Out Blog Content Editor Lynn Dirk accompanied me to the play, and afterwards, we disagreed completely on every plot point and characterization.

I started our post play conversation by saying I knew someone like Margie who is very happy with her baseline socio-economic existence and enjoys the opportunity to tell, impress upon people how they are the ones with issues or how others are to blame for her issues.  Lynn was more sympathetic to Margie and her dilemmas.

Lynn, having read Director Caldwell's notes in the program, noted that the play makes no judgements:  Good people can also have dark sides and the "truth" about what we are is ambiguous and changes depending on our position relative to others in our lives and on the setting (or should that be "set"?).

Another giant GLOB kudos and high fives to the Hipp’s Sound Designer Amanda Yanes for weaving excellent songs into the play, almost as another character, with an equal dose of attitude ranging from the Beatles's Help, to a song by J.J. Cale Unemployment, and ending with a powerful rendition of Gary Jules's "Mad World" (lyrics) as Margie returns to the 2nd level of the set and is dramatically silhouetted above the other scenes that represent the journey of her life.

I applauded the smart interaction between Margie and her pals.  The addition of Margie’s former supervisor Stevie as one of the bingo players was clever and well done.  I liked all the characters, even Margie despite my supervisor bias, but I had no empathy for Margie. She seemed OK with her station in life.  Nothing has really changed in her existence in Southey. Is that because she had no choices?  She is now an older woman that had experienced all the bad that Southey could deliver.  Margie wasn’t looking for any upscale, “lace curtain" luxuries.  Margie just wanted another damn job.

Good People continues this weekend with performances through February 2on various days and times.

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