No wonder, in an age when more and more, charity seems to end at home, it is the most oft-produced play on the nation’s stages this season.
The superior standard is set at the top of the cast, and filters down to the smallest (and still quite significant) of the six roles. In the crisp tale of an out-of-work single mom from hardscrabble South Boston, who reaches out to an ex-boyfriend-turned-wealthy-doctor, the workhorse role is that of blue-collar Margie Walsh. As played with endearing gumption by the smashing Johanna Day, Margie is a straight shooter who is so Southie-proud — even the “g” in her name is hard — she wears her financial struggles like a crown.
She’s just been fired from her $9-an-hour cashier’s job at a dollar store; she’s late on the rent to her tolerant if unpredictable landlady, the aptly named Dottie (Rosemary Knower), and worn out from caring for the unseen Joyce, her grown-up, mentally disabled daughter. If that is not a recipe for audience sympathy, what is?
Well, not so fast. Or at least, not so simple. How can it be that everyone in “Good People,” even Margie, clearly recognizes the unhelpful or hurtful inclinations of others, but can’t see it in themselves? “You have to be a selfish [expletive] to get anywhere,” one of the characters, who hasn’t gotten anywhere, opines. The notion of selfishness — the extremes we go to, looking out for No. 1 — materializes in the play again and again: in the ease, for example, with which Dottie gravitates to the idea of throwing Margie and her daughter out; in the craven encouragements of Margie’s pal Jean (a hilarious Amy McWilliams, as the play’s throaty voice of plain talk); in the tentative yet heartless way that Stevie (Michael Glenn) dismisses Margie from her job.
And most combustibly, in the wonderful culminating scene in Act 2, when Margie sandbags her old flame Mike and his young wife Kate (the outstanding Andrew Long and Francesca Choy-Kee), in their luxurious home in a Boston suburb, where Margie is so out of place that Kate mistakes her for a delivery person. (Kate’s ethnicity is further fuel for the fire.) Put off by Mike’s skittishness at offering her any kind of help, Margie lashes out with a story calculated to drive a wedge between the doctor and his spouse — an act that sparks a passionate rebuke from Choy-Kee’s Kate, expertly spitting the bile back in one of the evening’s best speeches.