David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People, the new show at Trustus Theatre, takes place in Boston, but really exists in two separate worlds. Margie Walsh (Dewey Scott-Wiley) isn’t doing well at life. As struggling single mother with a severely disabled adult daughter, she’s barely getting by paycheck to paycheck. When she’s laid off from her job at the Dollar Store for excessive tardiness –mostly from having to care for her daughter—she’s left with no prospects and a looming eviction. Her friends suggest she go talk to her old high school flame, Mike (Jason Stokes) to see if he can give her a job. They all remember him as being “Good People” - surely he’ll help an old friend out. Mike is completely beating Margie at the game of life: he’s a successful doctor with a home, a family, and a practice in Chestnut Hill, an upscale part of town. Mike never says he’s rich, just “comfortable,” to which Margie snaps back, "Oh, comfortable. You're comfortable. OK — I guess that makes me uncomfortable." She manages to wheedle an invitation to a birthday party that his wife is throwing for him, where she hopes to meet her new future employer.
Lindsay-Abaire presents some truly interesting characters and concepts in this play. Mike is that guy who managed to “get out” and make something of his life and Margie is that girl who just didn’t make it. While Mike feels entitled to his success, since after all he did work extremely hard to get there, Margie points out that he had several lucky breaks that most people in the "Southie" end of Boston never had. At what point are you truly just stuck? When Margie, the self-proclaimed “too nice” girl attempts to blackmail Mike with frightening secrets from his past, you can’t help but wonder if any of these people are “good” at all.
This script is particularly compelling as Lindsay-Abaire grew up in Southie. Like Mike, he grew up as the son of a fruit peddler, and was one of the lucky ones able to get out after getting a scholarship to Milton Academy when he was 11. The author says that the reason it took him so long to write a play about his childhood home was that “I was terrified. You love and care about these people deeply, and you don’t want to misrepresent them.” His characters are treated with compassion and dignity here.
This production, directed by Jim O’Connor, is subtle and well-executed. This show is a terrific example of what can be done with a terrific cast and a terrific director when they’re given a terrific script. Dewey Scott-Wiley is a raw and intelligent Margie who interjects just the right amount of humor into a very serious story. Jason Stokes plays Mike, and while he’s probably too young for this role (despite several references in the script to his looking good for his age), he manages to make you feel truly sorry for him when Margie starts laying in to him. The supporting cast, consisting mostly of Columbia theatre veterans, all deserve mention as well. Erica Tobolski, Barbara Lowrance Hughes, Kevin Bush, and Michelle Jacobs all deliver solid performances.
That being said, the set seemed hastily put-together, clunky, awkward, and not very well designed, which has been a recurring issue for Trustus. For this performance it was downright distracting as actors struggled with some of the set pieces and curtains. But that’s nitpicking.
Trustus Theatre has been spot-on with the plays they’ve chosen this season. I’m happy to see them getting back to their mission of bringing some of the best new theatre to Columbia, SC, and I hope this continues.
Good People runs through April 6; contact the box office at 803-254-9732 for ticket information, or visit www.trustus.org (and try out the new Trustus online reservation system.)
~ Jillian Owens