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5/18/2024      (Preview)   GOOD PEOPLE                                      Merely Players Presents


(I had to “bomb out” of seeing this production last night because of a lingering head cold.  Here’s hoping it improves enough for me to drag my sneezing butt to tonight’s “Fat Ham” at the Alliance.  That being said, I think I have enough “template” to give a preview of this show, and, hopefully, I’ll make it to next Saturday’s performance for a full review).

In 2013 and 2016, I positively drooled over two crackerjack productions of David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People,  a grandiose and well-funded mounting at the Alliance Theatre and a scaled-down but cleverly designed black box production by my friends at Out-of-Box Theatre.  Now, the good people (and also my good friends) at Merely Players Presents is staging a new at-long-last revival.    Let me preview that with some template notes from those long-forgotten reviews, an appreciation of the script itself, if you will.


It seems odd in this over-heated political season to reference the election of 2012, but "odd doesn't scare me."  During that campaign, a boatload of time was spent on the “I Did it Myself” paradigm, with one side saying, “No one gets ahead without the support of a whole bunch of people and a whole bunch of luck!”, and the other side saying, “Baloney!  I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps and did it all myself!”  Of course, it being a highly polarized political atmosphere, we only heard the extreme versions, as if this were an “all or nothing” proposition.  Then, in 2016 and 2020, and especially now.

In David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People, the playwright makes the point that success (and failure) depends on both personal choices (and actions) and luck.  While this concept may seem obvious to those who flirt with the political center, Mr. Lindsay-Abaire’s singular accomplishment is to make it blindingly insightful (and entertaining).


Welcome to South Boston, “Southie” to its struggling working-class denizens. Margie (hard “g” sound) Walsh is a middle-aged single mother of an adult “special needs” daughter, who has just lost her job.  Everyone assures her that “something will come up.”  Her friends advise her to look up her old flame, Mikey Dillon, who has become a doctor and “gotten out” of the neighborhood.  What follows is a series of scenes of culture clash between two people from the same culture, and personality clash between two people whose long-dead relationship has still-alive issues.


Mike is in a floundering marriage with a woman of a younger generation (and different race), and wallows in a (perhaps) well-earned pride in his accomplishments.  Margie often wonders what her life would have been like if she had made different choices all those years ago.


And of course, there are mountains of secrets and lies that are gradually opened and revealed, none of which are truly surprising, all of which are so habit-ingrained that the truth doesn’t seem to matter anymore.  More to the point, it is made clear that Margie’s hard times have an element of hard luck to go along with her bad choices, and Mike’s good fortune have an element of good luck to go along with his hard work and “right” choices.


And, just when you think you have the characters “figured out” and pigeon-holed, along comes a stray comment that makes you realize such-and-such choice was not as “nice” as you’ve convinced yourself.


In a nutshell, there are no heroes or villains here, but a group of recognizable people, all of whom often say (and do) mean things, all of whom have redemptive qualities, all of whom have a sense of humor and a flair for hyperbole that makes them “look over” each other’s lapses and shortcomings.  Not so surprisingly, so did I.  Some have said (and written) that none of the characters are truly likeable, and I thoroughly disagree.  They are, indeed, “good people” whose choices and “crossroads” moments are not larger-than-life, but often trivial, and everyday simple.  Their "meanness" is usually based on skin-deep knee-jerk reactions to perceived slights, while their "goodness" seems "to-the-bone" central.

It doesn’t hurt that Mr. Lindsay-Abaire is a master craftsman of dialogue, of giving his characters individual voices, and of writing conversations that are laugh-out-loud funny even when they are deadly serious and armed with venom-tipped verbal arrows. 


Both those older productions were that rarest of shows in which everything – script, design, performance, production – came together in a “perfect storm” of theatricality that appealed to the heart, to the head, and to the funny bone.  In both, the play left me amused, moved and thoughtful, thinking back on those moments my life that could have gone in totally different directions, moments of “luck” that changed my course forever.


The play can also be a bellwether indicator of what you bring into the experience – I read one review of the original New York production, in which the (obviously politically conservative) writer took it to task for showing us that “…success is purely a matter of luck, and virtue inheres solely in those who are luckless. So what if Mikey worked hard? Why should anybody deserve any credit for working hard?”  In fact, the play does give Mike plenty of credit for working hard to “get out” of the old neighborhood.  This writer sees “heroes and villains” where I just saw people (not always “good,” never fully “bad”).  Like the pundits pontificating during every political campaign, this writer saw a worldview of “either/or” rather than the actual “both/and” paradigm I saw (and continue to see). 


The recurring Bingo scenes are beautiful reminders of how transient (and long-reaching) the elements of luck can be.  This play acknowledges the impact of luck on your life’s course, but echoes the Alan Parsons Project’s lyric, that there has to be more – “The game never ends, when your whole world depends, on the turn of a friendly card.”  It was my good luck to see two wildly differing "takes" on this play, and my bad luck that I very well may miss this one. 


Of course, if I make it to next Saturday’s show, I will amend any relevant appreciation of the performances and productions, but, in the meanwhile, I hope this appreciation of the script inspires you to take a chance on Merely Players’ production.


     -- Brad Rudy (   #MerelyPlayersPresents m  #GoodPeople  #ICouldaHaddaB8!)


Postscript:   On a personal note, my most evident example of this choice/luck dichotomy is a single day in 1997 – I was working in Philadelphia (living in Jersey) and was about to leave for home.  On a whim, I checked out the local audition schedule and found there would be one that night for an Oscar Wilde play I’d always wanted to do.  I got lost trying to find the theatre and was one step away from throwing up my hands and going home.  I stopped for a bite to eat, saw a poster for another production at that theatre, and asked where it was.  I was about two blocks away and decided to go ahead and find it.  I was cast, and it was that show that introduced me to my lovely and talented spouse.  Three elements of luck – checking the audition schedule that particular day, having the evening free, and stopping at an eatery in the theatre’s neighborhood – any of which could have “gone the other way” and changed my life forever.  And yet, I also CHOSE to go that audition, and CHOSE to ask for directions.  If I hadn’t, this would be a Julia-less universe and I’d be a sad old man.


Apropos of Nothing, that play was An Ideal Husband, which, I hope, was an accurate prognosticator of our life together.  And Julia is now working at Oscar Wilde’s, a High-End restaurant just off Broadway. #CirclesOfSynchrony

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