By John Lyle Belden
Hard times can make hard people, but also “Good People,” in the hit 2011 Broadway play by David Lindsay-Abaire, now on stage at Buck Creek Players.
Margie (Molly Bellner) is a lifelong resident of Southie, a Boston working-class neighborhood — the kind of hardscrabble place one grows up planning to escape. For years, she struggled since dropping out of high school to take care of her baby, now a mentally disabled adult. Care for the unseen Joyce has made her late for work one too many times, and she is searching for a job again. Her friend Jean (Francie Mitchaner) and landlady Dotti (Susan Hill) suggest Margie look up her past boyfriend Mike (Jeremy Tuterow), a successful doctor, to see if he can help. Her visit to his office quickly becomes awkward, yet results in her getting an invitation to his birthday party at his nice home.
Later at the Bingo Hall (with Brian Noffke as the voice of the Priest calling the numbers), Margie meets Jean, Dotti, and her former Dollar Store supervisor, Stevie (Josh Rooks). She tells them about the party, and her hopes of hitting up someone there for a job. Jean notes that if she tells Mike that Joyce wasn’t born prematurely, making him the father, Margie could leverage that to get his help. But then Mike calls, saying the party has been cancelled – Margie doesn’t believe him, and goes anyway.
This play is best described as a rather dark comedy, wringing a good amount of humor from sad and uncomfortable situations. The struggles aren’t just with employment, as the Act II “party” with Mike and his wife Kate (Alicia Sims), a beautiful African-American woman, becomes reminiscent of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”
Bellner gives a brilliant performance, as a person for whom (“pardon my French,” she’d say) “busting your balls” is her love language. Her environment has brought her up so that being passive-aggressive, pushy and manipulative became necessary for survival. But it still comes across that Margie means well, that deep down she strives to be good, or at least “Good People” by Southie standards.
Mitchaner and Hill show in their characters that Margie isn’t unique, Jean and Dotti have only grown older and more cynical. But at least Dotti has her side-hustle, selling handmade (with Joyce’s help) wooden rabbits. Rooks sweetly plays the boy who never got out of Southie, but is making the best of it. Tuterow gives us the boy who did, but resents its shadow, while nursing a darkness that innocent Kate already suspects.
It’s interesting that to these folks, a Bingo jackpot is their “lottery dream.” Note the audience gets a chance to play, too, as Father Noffke calls a game during Intermission, complete with a prize.
With direction and excellent set design by Jim LaMonte, “Good People” has one more weekend, through Sunday, Feb. 13, at Buck Creek Playhouse, 11150 Southeastern Ave. (Acton Road Exit off I-74), Indianapolis. For info and tickets, visit buckcreekplayers.com.