Margie’s lived all her life in blue-collar South Boston. Now 30 years since she was a teen, she recounts the fates of former “Southies.” Sheila Sheen od’d. And Marty McDermott’s doing time in Walpole prison. The Burke brothers? Who knows, but it can’t have been good. And homeless Cookie died on the street just days ago.
Margie’s doing better? Don’t kid yourself. She just lost her cashier’s job at the Dollar Store. Her deadbeat husband’s who knows where. Daughter Joyce has “special needs,” which is why Margie was often late to work, and the landlady’s already “tapping her foot for the rent.”
For two months — around the time Joyce was conceived? — Margie dated Mickey Dillon. He made it out of the hardscrabble, Old Harbor projects and became a fertility doctor. Now he’s got a classy roost on Chestnut Hill. Margie and friends remember him as “good people.” Even though they haven’t seen each other in decades, and even though he’s probably “lace curtains” — the opposite of a gravel-mouthed Southie — maybe he can help her find work.
In an interview, David Lindsay-Abaire said he “gets the idea for a play when two ideas collide.” He hailed from Boston’s south side, made (in)famous in The Departed and Good Will Hunting and also for its antibusing stance in the ’70s. He left, got an education, but found that some part of him will always be a Southie.
In the beginning, his Good People feels odd to watch. It’s about subjects you almost never see in a theater. First and foremost, Margie needs a job. She must make ends meet or she and Joyce could end up like Cookie. She’ll even babysit, if it pays more than her babysitter charges while Margie’s working. For those who can afford theater tickets, here’s how the who-knows-how-many-jobless struggle day to day. Today.
Good People is also about social class, practically a taboo topic on American stages. Lindsay-Abaire explores differences, but without sociological generalities or authorial intrusions. Instead, in Act Two, he creates a triangle: a have-not (Margie, at Chestnut Hill in search of a job — any job); a have (Kate, Mike’s Georgetown-educated, African-American wife); and Mike, a nouveau-have, convinced he made it out of Southie on his own, but unable to sever ties with the old neighborhood.
Stevie, the store manager, says Margie makes “everything so difficult.” She pushes buttons, as if she wants to hurt others as much as she’s been hurt. As Margie, a terrific Eva Kaminsky never skimps on her irksome qualities (if she went into the audience, Margie would interrogate patrons to expose pretense and best kept secrets). At the same time, Kaminsky shows that underneath — and if she had some luck — the play’s title could refer to Margie.
She needs a helping hand. Mike, whom the play practically shreds, denies he ever had one. Silver-haired R. Ward Duffy bounces Mike between social classes, his past and present. The friction shatters his patrician veneer.
Denitsa Bliznakova’s excellent costumes cut to the quick. When she goes to Chestnut Hill, Margie’s best outfit can’t compete with Kate’s designer-tailored, lounge-about-the-house togs. As Kate, elegant Nedra McClyde exudes restraint and sophistication, then fires sharp jabs when the gloves come off.
Paul Mullins directs with a deft, almost invisible hand. When the Southies gather — James McMenamin (Stevie), Carol Halsted (Jean), and especially Robin Pearson Rose (Dottie) — Mullins’s stagings are a politically incorrect, internecine hoot.
William Missouri Downs’s Exit Interview is so herky-jerky the script doesn’t give you time to think. Which is odd, since its main point is that people these days don’t take time to think for themselves.
Dick Fig, Brecht scholar, just got fired from a university. Before leaving, he must do an exit interview with Eunice. An optimist from human resources, she calls his pink-slip a “transition to broaden his field of endeavor.” While Dick’s a confirmed doubter, Eunice believes everything must have a purpose — even the crazed gunman currently shooting up the school.
Exit Interview is part of the National New Play Network Rolling World Premieres. It’s opening at six different theaters across the country. The San Diego Rep’s is world premiere #2. Sam Woodhouse gives it a funny, jolt-filled staging reminiscent of his historic Six Women with Brain Death (having Linda Libby — a hilarious Eunice — in both casts also prompts the connection).
The genre’s — what? Brechtian sketch comedy? The cast obviously relishes the blackout skits geared to shake the audience into thought, as Dick Fig (Herbert Seguenza) lectures us in several jargon-riddled explanations. Lisel Gorell-Getz shines in multiple roles, as does Francis Gercke as a bishop who sips Diet Coke — the show also takes commercial breaks — and sings liturgy. Jo Anne Glover and Nick Cagle enhance all their scenes.
In one of the best, Gorell-Getz and Glover have an information war. Each cites an authority — Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc. — but the findings conflict. So they ask a radical question: how would we find out for ourselves? — i.e., author’s message.
Exit Interview pits science against religion and throws political barbs at cows sacred and profane. It is also cute and silly and extremely self-conscious — in an egocentric, not Brechtian manner. It wants to exude crazy wisdom. Instead it’s just a jazzy critique of today’s refusal to probe beneath the surface. The play’s more sis- than boom-bah. But the Rep’s manic staging keeps it entertaining throughout. ■
Good People, by David Lindsay-Abaire
Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park
Directed by Paul Mullins; cast: R. Ward Duffy, Carol Halstead, Eva Kaminsky, Nedra McClyde, James McMenamin, Robin Pearson Rose; scenic design, Michael Schweikardt; costumes, Denitsa Bliznakova; lighting, Chris Rynne; sound, Fritz Patton
Playing through October 28; Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Matinee Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 619-234-5623
Exit Interview, by William Missouri Downs
San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown
Directed by Sam Woodhouse; cast: Jo Anne Glover, Lisel Gorell-Getz, Francis Gercke, Linda Libby, Herbert Siguenza, Nick Cagle; scenic design, Giulio Cesare Perrone; costumes, Valerie Henderson; lighting, Wen-Ling Lao; sound, Tom Jones; composer, Jim Mooney
Playing through October 21; Sunday and Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Matinee Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 619-544-1000