CULTURE CLASH Mootos and Kane. [Photo by Peter Goldberg]
It’s a question that bums out some people and brightens up others as they think about it later in their middle age. Blind luck or clear-sighted decision-making — which factor accounts for whether we lead lives of quiet desperation or prideful applause?
Good People, by David Lindsay-Abaire, is a brilliantly formulated examination of that question, a fascinating thought experiment brought to heart-pounding life by superb actors at the Gamm Theatre (through December 8), directed with agility by Rachel Walshe.
Marvelous play, marvelous production. By the end I walked out brightened, convinced that, despite differences of class and temperament, it’s possible for contentious people to get along.
We start out in South Boston, the tough Irish-American enclave of working-class people struggling to survive economically, and we end up in Chestnut Hill, not far as the crow flies but a world away in terms of comfort and security.
Margie Walsh (Jeanine Kane) has lived in Southie all her life. It’s been a difficult one. Pregnant at 17, she gave birth to a handicapped child, and the guy tapped as the father ran for the hills at first opportunity. So now, 30 years later, she’s the single mother of a mentally disabled adult daughter and has lost her cashier job at the Dollar Store. If she can’t get hired again — and fast — she’s afraid she’ll be out on the street.
Kane has never been better at pulling us into concern for a character, whether Margie is being snarky or funny. She keeps her tap dancing throughout the play, figuratively but as intensely as if literally, as though to stop means to curl up and die. Rueful humor sets the tone at the beginning when she’s talking with her old homie Stevie (Marc Dante Mancini), who is also her supervisor. She tries to delay him reluctantly having to fire her by recounting an anecdote about his mother. (When the shoplifted frozen turkey beneath her dress clunked to the floor, she barked: “Who threw that bird at me?!”) Don’t worry; later Stevie matter-of-factly proves to be a friend indeed.
Margie is backed up by a couple of bingo-playing pals. Dottie lives upstairs and, as well as being a dirt-cheap babysitter, is also her no-nonsense landlady, telling her she’ll have to move out if she can’t pay the rent, since her son needs a place. Margaret Melozzi gives her delightful, characterizing comical touches, such as flossing during a conversation. Jean, played by Casey Seymour Kim with casual charisma, wisecracks and clips coupons.
One of their cohorts has managed to break out of their blue-collar neighborhood. “Mikey” Dillon (Bill Mootos) escaped to college after a summer fling with Margie and is now a doctor, a fertility specialist living in upscale Chestnut Hill. She hasn’t seen him since then, but she’s panicked enough to come to his office asking for work. He says he’s “still a Southie kid at heart,” but she calls him “lace curtain Irish.”