Good People, which opens Keegan Theatre’s 25th Anniversary Season, is a play about rough-edged people — Southies from Boston — who cut right to the chase. That chase is surviving, friendship, family, and never forgetting where you come from. Somehow it hit home more this time around than the last time I saw it (Arena Stage’s excellent production in 2013).
Maybe it hit home even harder because in the eight years since then, there has been such little progress made on so many fronts, including wages. The main character, Margaret (Susan Marie Rhea in a fireball of a performance) makes a princely $9.20 an hour, and yet is willing to take a pay cut to keep her job. She’s a single mother with a severely disabled adult daughter and her world just crashed around her.
It was during [Act 2] that the show really came to full, brutal life. It was sharp, incisive, and rife with all the ways humans find to rationalize their actions. At the climatic moment in the non-party when Mike and Margaret hurl some truth-bombs, the air just crackled from the their raw emotion. There was a palpable sense of violence in the air.
David Lindsay-Abaire, who wrote this award-winning play, has crafted a work that even if some of the references seem a bit dated, well, that just doesn’t matter. The underlying tensions — financial, emotional, and physical (Margaret has done physical work all her life and it’s wearing out her body, and those of her friends’ as well) — still exist in our society.
The cast have a terrific chemistry. Sheri S. Herren (Jean) and Linda High (Dottie), as the friends, squabble and pick at each other endlessly, and present a united front. Joe Baker is a pitch-perfect Stevie. He’s attained the rank of “management,” but he is also aware of how tenuous his hold on the American Dream is. And he has a good heart. As Kate, Mike’s wife, Simone Brown is privileged, but she’s not naïve and demands truth.
But it’s the scenes between Rhea and Mike Kozemchak (Mike) that push this play into the must-see category. They have wit and brutality in equal doses. Director Josh Sticklin has helped his cast find that sweet spot that holds an audience rapt, particularly in the second act.
This is a show that starkly reminds us that for many the American Dream is a myth, no matter how hard they work. Through the lives of these people, it holds a mirror up to our brand of capitalism and asks us, how many of us are really one or two paychecks from disaster? It shows us how economic realities can fray the bonds of friendship, and yet moments of grace will slip through. It’s well worth seeing again in 2021.