In the most devastating scene of
Such is the lot of the working-class, poorly educated, debt-strapped new American worker. And whatever your demographic or background, you can't watch that scene, one of the best opening scenes of any new Broadway drama these past few years, without thinking about whether some version of this, one day, will happen to you.
No wonder Margaret, a proud Southie who has a disabled kid at home and years of struggle behind her, is angry. And as performed by Mariann Mayberry in a blisteringly complex performance at the
When I saw "Good People" on Broadway last year — in another excellent, but tonally different, production, starring
That is exactly what has happened: K. Todd Freeman's fiery production is less polished than the Broadway original, and notably more aggressive and raw. The humor in the piece is less evident, but its more fatalistic themes are amplified and the great intimacy possible at Steppenwolf connects this fine American play more intensely to the audience, who, at Saturday night's performance, was interrupting Act 2 events with gasps and other noises, coming darn close to expressing a desire for some collective intervention.
Steppenwolf's weird, bingo-ball poster image notwithstanding, "Good People" really is a meditation on a turn of phrase that themed a night of the recent Republican National Convention, "We Built It," itself a response to President
But with the playwright at her side, Margaret is on a mission to point out that luck and the support of a whole community played as big a part as anything in Mike's secure level of success — most notably a father who watched out for him on the tough, racially charged streets, a father she did not have herself. You certainly see where Lindsay-Abaire's sympathies lie, but this play also is a clear-eyed portrait of what holds some working-class folks back: a cycle of rough circumstances, sure, but also a lack of vision or follow-through, and although Lindsay-Abaire himself grew up poor in South Boston, he still is able to probe the dark side of an inward-turning community that can resent success as much as it hates outsiders.
These kinds of class-driven, realistic plays are tough to write in a way that the plot holds together, but you won't ever find yourself ahead of events in "Good People," which Lindsay-Abaire has structured with a mystery that unravels and then closes up, only to unravel again, and then again, in an entirely different direction. Unpretentious in its structure and compassionate in notion, this is a well-made play, in the best sense of the term, driven by wrenching confrontations. Those conversations are blistering throughout, whether it's Mayberry taking on Arenas, an actress who can hold her fire for long, long minutes only to unleash ballistic-type weapons when pushed, or the lower-key Kupferer turning beet-red in the face when cornered, or Strus fighting almost to the death for a friend she serves better than that friend realizes. Filled with good people, this is a play toward which one leans in, feeling for all these fearful characters and scared yourself of the perhaps-inexorable changes in their world.
When: Through Nov. 11
Where: Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted St.
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes