Good People is good theater at Marin Theatre Co.

Aug 28

Good People 1
Jamie Jones (left) is Jean, Amy Resnick (center) is Margie and Anne Darragh is Dottie in the Bay Area premiere of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People at Marin Theatre Company. Below: ZZ Moor (left) as Kate, Resnick as Margie and Mark Anderson Phillips as Mike sort through some uncomfortable details of the past (and present). Photos by Ed Smith

There’s something to be said for a play that is simply good. Not earth shattering or even profound. It may not take the form of drama in new and exciting directions or reinvent the notion of entertainment, but a good play does indeed entertain.

David Lindsay-Abaire is a smart, funny, compassionate writer who makes good plays (and happens to have a Pulitzer Prize on his shelf for the play Rabbit Hole). They have depth and feeling and almost always a good laugh or two (or three). His most recent arrival in the Bay Area is Good People, a slice-of-life comedy/drama receiving its local premiere as the season-opener for Marin Theatre Company.

And here’s what’s really interesting: not only is the play about something – choices, luck and the American class system – but also manages to be heartfelt, thoroughly entertaining and, at times, even a little unsettling. How can you not be unsettled when talking about our unspoken but very real class system? We all know the basic rules but seldom acknowledge the realities outside of that great American myth involving hard work, boot straps and ultimate reward.

The play itself, set in Lindsay-Abaire’s native South Boston and Chestnut Hill, apparently one of Bean Town’s tonier suburbs, acknowledges that hard work is important when aiming to escape one’s hardscrabble roots, but it also posits that luck has an awful lot to do with it. Those who make good choices and rise above their humble beginnings may have had more luck than those for whom such choices didn’t ever exist.

Good People 2

That’s essentially the difference between Mike (Mark Anderson Phillips), a successful doctor, and Margaret (Amy Resnick). They both grew up in the rough Lower End part of Southie. He had a working father who looked out for him and helped push him in the right direction – to college, then medical school and on to a successful career. She, on the other hand, got pregnant, dropped out of high school and devoted her life to raising a disabled daughter on her own and bouncing from one bad job to another.

Hard up for a job after being fired from her cashier gig at the Dollar Depot, Margie (as she’s called by her friends – with hard “g”) takes desperate action. It’s been 30 years since she’s seen Mikey, but she figures what the hell and crashes his office to see if he might offer her some sort of job.

The scenes between Resnick and Phillips are incredibly satisfying, both in the writing and performance. Margie and Mikey have a bond created by the old neighborhood. He got out, she’s stuck there, so that bond is a tricky one. He’s one of the “haves” now and she’s a “have not,” or as he says, he’s “comfortable.” “I guess that makes me uncomfortable,” Margie retorts. That’s the thing about these two – Margie is self-deprecating and calls herself stupid, as if that’s the reason she got trapped and he escaped. But Margie is sharp and up front. She really pushes Mikey’s buttons (“I’m just bustin’ balls,” she says. “It’s how I do.”), and it’s fun to watch him squirm, especially when the action shifts to his lovely suburban home and his wife (ZZ Moor) is there to amp up the intensity and discomfort and, ultimately, the honesty.

Resnick, long one of the Bay Area’s most reliable actors, is remarkable here, so real and thoughtful. Margie can be quite funny, but credit Lindsay-Abaire and Resnick for making the humor come from someplace honest and more than a little heartbreaking. One of the most sustained and rewarding laughs I’ve heard in a theater in a long time came in Act 2 on opening night. The lines themselves don’t really amount to much, but context and delivery are everything. Mikey asks a simple question, but it’s suffused with class implications, and Margie’s straightforward answer pierces right to the core of their differences and puts them on equal footing. Phillips, another Bay Area stalwart, is grounded and complicated as Mikey and is well matched with Resnick.

Credit director Tracy Young for guiding her strong cast with a sure hand. Some of the supporting characters – Margie’s friends Jean (Jamie Jones) and Dottie (Anne Darragh) and her former boss, Stevie (Ben Euphrat) – verge on the precipice of stereotype or caricature, but these actors are too good to let that happen.

Good People climbs up on a soapbox for a bit to allow two basically good people to demonize each other briefly before calming down and acknowledging that bad choices do get made, luck is sporadic but greedily consumed and that the lives we live are precarious no matter if we’re “comfortable” or “uncomfortable.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION
David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People continues through Sept. 15 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Tickets are $37-$58. Call 415-388-5288 or visit www.marintheatre.org.

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