To reduce any well-made play to its central theme might seem, well, a bit reductive, which makes talking about David Lindsay-Abaire's "Good People" such an interesting challenge.
With humor, the play delves into issues of character and class, while challenging the idea that hard work alone makes it possible to realize the American Dream. The drama is set in motion after a South Boston single mother, Margie, is fired from her cashier's job at the Dollar Store. Desperate to care for her disabled adult daughter, she launches her job search by seeking out Mike, a former high-school boyfriend.
The last time Margie talked to Mike, he sounded like her. Now he's lost the rough edges of his Southie accent. "Margie is a product of the world she grew up in," says Robin Wilks-Dunn, who is directing Salt Lake Acting Company's production of the well-lauded play. "With Mike, she's calling him out. Even if he's not trying to be condescending or uppity, she perceives that."
He's made it to the other side of the tracks and works as a fertility doctor "reproductive endocrinologist" as he informs her. "I don't know what you just said, but I just got a little excited," Margie says.
"I do fertility stuff," Mike says.
"You should have just said that," Margie replies. After all, she only went to Southie High.
Their meeting in Act I sets in motion a thunderstorm of class warfare and revelations in Act II, as Margie drops by for a party at Mike and his wife's posh Chestnut Hill home. "Even in the revelation of everything, there's a lot that's not said," Wilks-Dunn says.
The play is one of three regional premieres playing in Salt Lake City from the country's Top 10 most-produced plays list, as compiled by the Theatre Communications Group (TCG), an association of nonprofit theaters. "Good People" will receive 14 productions, while Pioneer Theatre Company's "Other Desert Cities," by Jon Robin Baitz, will receive 13 shows. Topping the list is SLAC's current production, David Ives' "Venus in Fur," which will see 22 productions this theater season. (The show's run has been extended one week to Nov. 3.)
The list "takes the temperature of the kinds of stories our theaters feel compelled to tell," including dramas about weighty issues such as class, race, sex and family, said Teresa Eyring, executive director of TCG, in a statement.
In his New York Times review, Ben Brantley termed Lindsay-Abaire's characters "among the most fully human residents of Broadway these days," while Frances McDormand won a Tony Award for originating the role of Margie. "Good People," the playwright's first dramatic return to his South Boston neighborhood, follows the acclaim for "Rabbit Hole," which won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, was produced at SLAC in 2006 and became a 2010 movie with Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart.
Taking on the challenge of creating Margie is Utah-based actor Nell Gwynn. She considers "Good People" an important play in the way it explores the issues of the working class or the lowly folk who are "un-comfortable," as Margie says. Everyone will find a character to relate to, says Gwynn, who reflects on her own childhood in Rawlins, Wyo., where she was raised by a single mother who was widowed at age 27.
"A well-written play is a beautiful thing, it's a beautiful thing for a performer, and it's a beautiful thing for the audience," she says. "It's all there."
For Robert Scott Smith, who plays Mike, the story turns on the idea of who is good. "I think everyone thinks they are a good person in the play, but that's debatable," Smith says. His character, who on the surface seems likable, isn't entirely honest with those around him.
The play's central characters, Margie, Mike and his wife, Kate (played by Michelle Patrick), are all desperate to protect what they love, and the story's rich humor grows out of their cultural clashes.
"There's a lot of laughter in this," Wilks-Dunn says. "There's a lot of situations where I think people will be deliciously shocked. You will laugh or gasp at what was said, because you were thinking it. And that's what so glorious about this cast. The actors are so great at getting the comedy out of the line."
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Class battles in 'Good People'
Salt Lake Acting Company opens its production of David Lindsay-Abaire's "Good People."
When • Previews Oct. 30 and 31; opens Nov. 1, continues through Nov. 24; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 1 and 6 p.m. Sunday
Where • Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 W. 500 North, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $15-$42 (senior/student/under 30); 801-363-7522; saltlakeactingcompany.org
Also • SLAC's current production, "Venus in Fur," has been extended through Nov. 3 in the company's chapel theater.