What role does luck play? Can it decide one’s destiny? Is it just, or is it more generous to some than others? Do our choices matter?
These were the overarching questions and themes expressed throughout David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People,” a senior project for Lilla Brody, directed by Nina Goodheart ’19 and produced by Delilah Napier ’19 and Lucy Tomasso ’19. The play centers on the struggles of Margie Walsh, played by Lilla Brody ’18, a lifelong resident of Southie, one of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods.
“Discussions of class difference are difficult to have at one of the richest universities in the world, where such a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds exist,” Brody said. “But good art has the power to make us think more deeply about issues that affect both the political and personal spheres.”
Played by Sammy Grob ’20, Mike — Margie’s former friend and lover — makes it out of Southie, attending the University of Pennsylvania and becoming a renowned doctor. She, on the other hand, lives on an income barely higher than the minimum wage as a single mother caring for her premature child, Joyce. They cross paths when Margie loses her job at a dollar store and her friend Jean, played by Emily Harburg ’18, updates her on Mike’s success after she returns home.
Meeting 30 years later in Mike’s office to discuss potential employment opportunities, the characters display a mixture of chemistry and awkwardness that causes palpable tension as the play evolves.
In the second act, Margie is introduced to Mike’s family, and naturally, sparks fly. The cast evokes emotions that cause the audience to empathize with Margie’s pain. When Margie meets Mike’s wife, Kate, played by Awa Franklin ’19, sees his house and experiences his world, she realizes the life she could have lived and the struggles she could have avoided, had she stuck with him beyond high school.
The second act, through repeated confrontations stemming from Margie’s desperation, brings several revelations about the characters and speaks to broader themes in life.
“I think it’s very important to be conscious of the narratives we tell others and ourselves about who we are and where we’ve come from,” said Grob. The feisty and somewhat violent nature of Mike when Margie reveals his darker past serves as a reminder that his roots remain intact despite Margie calling him “lace curtain,” an insult alluding to pretension, for much of the play.
Margie’s willingness to sabotage her ex-lover’s marriage and family serves as a reminder of the dangers of desperation and of how unexceptional people can sometimes do exceptionally terrible things at the climax of their struggles.
The beauty of the play is that it leaves us with two alternate endings that lead to two divergent conclusions about the characters.
“I think the show asks more questions than it answers,” Goodheart said.
The ambiguity stems from the final scene in which Margie and her friends discuss Mike’s reluctance to accept Joyce as his own. In the first act, that plan is presented merely as a somewhat sadistic ploy to receive child support payments. In the final scene, however, Margie says, “I always thought you didn’t know about that,” to which Jean replies, “Everybody knew.” The play ends on this cliffhanger that makes it hard to draw conclusions about the main protagonists.
The survey accompanying the program speaks volumes about the play’s significance. The survey asked audience members whom they were rooting for, whom they thought was “good” and who handled their circumstances best.
“David Lindsay-Abaire paints all the characters in ‘Good People’ with humanity and fullness, which makes it easy to empathize with them,” Brody said.
The cast presented the characters with all their strengths and all their flaws. The beauty of this play and this weekend’s production was that the characters were relatable, presented with their imperfections and without filter.
A.J. Janahi | email@example.com