Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People addresses a lot of Big Issues in its two acts--class, race, family, destiny, whether or not a person can ever really leave the past behind and move on with their life.
Remarkably, he does all those things in a script full of humor (save for some seriously dramatic turns), vividly drawn characters and evocative dialogue that takes the audience straight to the working-class Southie part of Boston.
All that being true, I walked out of Salt Lake Acting Company most impressed with the performance of Nell Gwynn as Margie, the character the story revolves around from the very first scene. In it, she's fired from her low-paying job, and the scene is relatively brief, just Margaret and her boss, Stevie (Gordon Dunn), a man who clearly has affection for Margaret, but is being pressured by his own boss to fire her for repeatedly being late. As she tries to convince Stevie to keep her on, explaining the circumstances in her life that force her tardiness, Lindsay-Abaire gives us all we need to empathize with Margie's situation for the rest of the play.
Much of that narrative revolves around Margaret's effort to find another job and take care of her daughter, a pursuit that leads her to reconnect with an old boyfriend who used a combination of smarts and luck to get out of Southie and become a doctor. Mike (Robert Scott Smith) moved back to Boston--albeit in posh Chestnut Hill--with his wife Kate (Michelle Patrick) and daughter, and when Margie hears about it, she shows up at his office in hopes of landing some office work.
The reunion of Margie and Mike starts somewhat uncomfortably, as you'd expect between two old friends who haven't seen each other in 30 years. The difference in their economic circumstances lends an edge to their interactions almost immediately; while Margaret claims to just be "busting balls" when she jokes about his putting on airs and ignoring his hardscrabble hometown upbringing, the accusation clearly stings. He ends up asking her to a dinner party at his house as a means of smoothing things over, suggesting Margie might be able to find work by intermingling with his other guests.
When Mike calls to cancel because his daughter is sick, Margaret is suspicious and thinks he's lying, leading her to show up in Chestnut Hill anyway, where Mike, Margie and Mike's wife Kate proceed to spend a night that reveals long-buried secrets I won't spoil here, but they inspired the audience I saw the show with to audibly gasp more than once.
Throughout, Gwynn inhabits the character of Margie and does an incredible job of fleshing out the character. It's a powerhouse performance, and some of the other characters pale a bit in comparison, lacking the different sides of Margie that we've come to know. Some of that is on the script, and some of it is simply how vividly Gwynn's Margie is drawn and delivered.
Between Lindsay-Abaire's script, an engaging production staged by director Robin Wilks-Dunn and Gwynn's performance, consider Good People is a must-see.
Good People runs at Salt Lake Acting Company Wednesdays through Sundays until November 24. Visit the SLAC Website for showtimes, tickets and more information.
(Photos by David Daniels, courtesy of Salt Lake Acting Company)