GOOD PEOPLE

by David Lindsay-Abaire
April 4 – 21, 2013
Nominated for the 2011 Tony Award for Best Play

Directed by Jennifer Uphoff Gray

Featuring FTC advisory company members Celia Klehr and Richard Ganoung, noted Milwaukee actresses Laura Gordon and Malkia Stampley, and FTC favorite Susan Sweeney.

Welcome to Southie, a Boston neighborhood where a night on the town means a few rounds of bingo… where this month’s paycheck covers last month’s bills… and where Margie Walsh has just been let go from yet another job. Facing eviction and scrambling to catch a break, Margie thinks an old fling who has made it out of Southie might be her ticket to a fresh new start. But is this apparently self-made man secure enough to face his humble beginnings? Margie is about to risk what little she has left to find out. With his signature humorous glow, Lindsay-Abaire explores the struggles, shifting loyalties and unshakeable hopes that come with having next to nothing in America.

“Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire’s new comedy-laced drama, Good People, contains such belief in the goodness that thrives within otherwise afflicted hearts that it defies onlookers to leave without feeling deeply satisfied.”
—David Finkle, Theatermania

Sponsored by: MG&E, Group Health Cooperative of South-Central Wisconsin, Michael Best & Friedrich, Brava, Dane Arts, Fromagination, and American Family Insurance

Bingo Night to Benefit Teen Program at Goodman Center

BILL NOVAK | bnovak@madison.com

An employment and education program at one of Madison's busiest community centers will be getting a big boost from bingo, and support from a play that has bingo as a central theme.

Good People Bingo will be held at the Goodman Community Center on April 26 from 6 to 10 p.m., with the money raised going to TEENworks, the center's teen employment and education network.

Forward Theater Company is partnering with the Goodman Community Center in putting on Good People Bingo, tied to the company's production of Good People, playing at the Overture Center April 4 to 21.

The play centers around a poor Boston neighborhood where a night on the town means bingo.

"Each year, Forward Theater gives back to the community by connecting a theme in one of our productions to an organization that's doing important work here in Madison," said artistic director Jennifer Uphoff Gray in a news release. "We felt strongly that we wanted to partner with the Goodman Community Center in support of their job training programs, since poverty, lack of education and lack of job opportunities all feature prominently in the life of Margie Walsh, the play's main character."

The first bingo ball will drop at 7:30 p.m. at the center, 149 Waubesa St., on Madison's East Side.

Admission to this adults only event is $20. Advance tickets are being sold at the center or online at www.goodmancenter.org.

FORWARD’S “GOOD PEOPLE” IS GREAT THEATER
Culturosity Blog, Mike Muckian, APRIL 6, 2013

Is success a matter of luck, the result of hard work or a combination of the two? What do we owe one another as human beings? And is it really so bad to forget your roots, at least until those roots rise up and entangle you in your past?

Those questions drive Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People,” Forward Theater’s season finale that opened this weekend at The Playhouse in Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts. In a relatively simple narrative layered with humor and despair, Forward and its stunning cast may have uncovered the crown jewel of the troupe’s brief four-year existence.

In the play, single mother Margie (said with a hard “g” and flawlessly performed by the Milwaukee Rep’s Laura Gordon) is dismissed from her low-paying job as a dollar store clerk in South Boston (“Southie” as the rough, lower-class neighborhood is better known.) Desperate for money to support herself and her disabled daughter, she visits Mike (Richard Ganoung), a former boyfriend and now a doctor at the advice of friends Dottie (American Players Theatre’s Susan Sweeney) and Jean (Madison Rep founding member Celia A. Klehr). All Margie wants is a job.

The pair joust verbally and Mike ends up reluctantly inviting Margie to his birthday party being thrown by his elegant African-American wife Kate (Milwaukee actor Malkia Stampley) at the couple's stylish Chestnut Hill home. The day prior Mike calls Margie to say the party has been cancelled. Sure that she has simply been “disinvited,” Margie shows up anyway, the only guest at a party for three that takes a very nasty turn.

Despite the dour scenario, the play is rife with laughter as Margie and her friends verbally spar during several bingo games. Ganoung proves an able, if malevolent foil, but this show belongs to Gordon, Sweeney and Klehr. The working class trio banter and box in a no-holds-barred manner available only to those who have spent a long, hard life together. Director Jennifer Uphoff Gray coaxes award-winning performances from all three veteran actors throughout the two-hour show.

Dialect coach Annelise Dickinson and dialect consultant Jan Gist get credit for creating a flawless collection of Southie accents among the six-member cast, which also includes Whitney Derendinger as Margie’s former boss Stevie. Keith Pitts’ set design, which literally rises step by step from a trash-strewn alley to Margie’s small, battered kitchen to Mike and Kate’s elegant living room was as effective as the design was simple.

The characters in the play may or may not be good people, as the title asserts. But “Good People” makes for an evening of great performances and another impressive win for Forward Theater.

LAURA GORDON MASTERFUL IN WORKING-CLASS DRAMA 'GOOD PEOPLE'

By Mike Fischer, Special to the Journal Sentinel
April 8, 2013 12:24 p.m.

Madison - I'll cut right to the chase: Buoyed by a superb cast and a strong script, Laura Gordon is currently giving a career-defining performance in Madison, where Forward Theater is staging David Lindsay-Abaire's "Good People," under Jennifer Uphoff Gray's direction.

The terrific first scene sets the stage. In a trash-littered alley in South Boston - the notoriously tough and insular working-class neighborhood known as Southie - Margie Walsh is being fired from her $9.20 per hour job because she is constantly late for work.

Never mind that she has known Stevie (Whitney Derendinger), the 20-something manager lowering the axe, his entire life. Never mind that the reason Margie is always late is that she lives with the disabled daughter she has singlehandedly raised. Never mind that Margie is hovering around 50, never finished high school, can't make rent and has no place to go.

Stevie knows all of this. But when failing to fire Margie means being fired himself, he doesn't have much choice. Even as Margie tries to delay the inevitable by recalling stories of Stevie's mother - reminding him of their shared history - both of them know how this meeting will end.

It's how Margie always expects things to end; a hard life has robbed her of whatever confidence she once had. Coupled with her fierce Southie pride, that makes it hard for Margie to ask others for what she herself isn't sure she deserves.

Rather than risk rejection by asking for new cards, Margie reasons it's safer to accept her lousy hand, forgive those doing the dealing and joke down the pain - through passive-aggressive sallies that give vent to her pent-up anger and disappointment, while allowing her to insist that she's just kidding.

The kidding gets more serious when hard times propel Margie into the posh Boston world where Mike - a high school flame who made an improbable escape from Southie's projects - is now a doctor. Margie just wants a job. Mike wants to forget that she - and the world they're from - even exists.

Richard Ganoung's Mike conveys the guilt of a man who can't risk acknowledging what he owes to where he's from, lest it undermine his sense of who he has become - and his misguided belief that he got there on his own, through pluck and hard work. As we'll see, even his young and beautiful African-American wife (Malkia Stampley) represents a rejection of his past.

Like this play's very funny bingo scenes - which feature Susan Sweeney and Celia A. Klehr as Margie's hilarious home girls - Margie reminds Mike and us that while our choices help shape who we are, luck has a lot to do with how many choices we get.

Forward chose very well when casting Gordon as Margie. Gordon has played many women whose bluff and brusque exterior hides a world of hurt, anger and need; she has the ability and range to simultaneously project both dimensions.

But such characters have usually been professional, wealthy or both. Playing Margie - the sort of woman who rarely gets featured in American plays - allows Gordon to paint on a very different canvas. The resulting opportunity has clearly galvanized her - and will energize you, upon seizing the lucky chance to see this great play.

DARKLY FUNNY 'GOOD PEOPLE' CONSIDERS THE POLITICS OF GETTING OUT
LINDSAY CHRISTIANS | THE CAPITAL TIMES | LCHRISTIANS@MADISON.COM

It's a seductive lie of the American dream that anyone, from any circumstances, can grow up to be a doctor or a lawyer or a captain of industry.

Ignoring our own growing credit card debt and underemployment, we point to the start-ups that began in garages, the Tennessee girl who became a Hollywood starlet.

With the attitude that success is inevitable if we make the right choices, blame shifts quietly to the people who can't get out — people like Margie Walsh, the central character in David Lindsay-Abaire's "Good People."

“Good People,” a timely 2011 play set in South Boston, considers the question of who escapes poverty, and at what cost.
Forward Theater ends its fourth season with this emotionally raw, surprisingly funny production, directed with a deft hand by Forward artistic director Jennifer Uphoff Gray. A three-week run in the Playhouse closes Sunday, April 21.

Margaret, a blunt, perceptive woman who dropped out of high school to care for her disabled daughter, hovers one missed rent check from the homeless shelter in Southie, in the depressed part of town where she grew up. Now close to 50, Margaret has lost her minimum wage job at the Dollar Store because of her constant lateness.

Too old to work a factory line and discouraged in her search, Margie turns to Mike Dillon, a former classmate who "got out."
Mikey from Southie is now a doctor. His wife is a professor of literature at Boston University; they live in a multimillion dollar home in Chestnut Hill. He's inflated by his own success, but bristles when Margie describes him as “rich” or, worse, “lace curtain Irish.”
Dr. Dillon prefers “comfortable.”

“I worked my ass off,” Mike insists. “That's the only way out of here.”

Margie, played by the excellent Milwaukee actress Laura Gordon, manipulates the people around her seemingly without forethought. Desperation underlies every conversation, every scene.

With her Dollar Store boss, Stevie (Whitney Derendinger, understated and looking impossibly young) Margie sounds like a mother laying on a guilt trip. And with Mike, she immediately knows which buttons to push.

“You just don’t want me minglin’ with your buddies,” Margie accuses Mike after wrangling an invitation to his birthday party. “You afraid I might embarrass you?”

Margie's world is unforgiving, harsh — overturned shopping carts and discarded soda cans litter the front of Kevin Pitts's multi-layered set. Mike says this makes girls from Southie "hard" and "mean," like Margie's best friend, Jean (played by the truly hilarious Celia Klehr).

“You're too nice. That's why you don't have anything,” Jean tells Margie. “You have to be a selfish prick to get anywhere.”

Forward's cast connects, both to the humor and tension in the script and to each other. Susan Sweeney, playing Margie's self-absorbed landlord Dottie, manages to create a complex, grudgingly likable character in a few short scenes.

Malkia Stampley, a Milwaukee actress, plays Mike's Georgetown wife with an easy approachability, the opposite of Margie's "hard" friends.

Only Richard Ganoung, as Mike, seems unsteady, disconnected. He reacts violently to something Margie says and she comments that “there's still a little Southie in there.” But it feels forced — the connection they used to have never flickers to life again, even briefly.

More than four years into the recession, “Good People” strikes a raw nerve. National Public Radio recently reported that 18 different companies around the country are producing it this season, from Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre to the Seattle Rep and Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.

For all that “Good People” is a play about a woman in an exhausting situation, it's as entertaining and funny as anything Forward has produced so far.

Lindsay-Abaire's “good” people aren't selfless, kind or fair. But they're honest, and they can be unexpectedly generous. Sometimes that's as good as it gets.

On choices
"You wanna tell me about choices? While you sit up here practically breaking your arm patting yourself on the back for all you accomplished. Lucky you. You made some wise choices. But you're wrong if you think everyone has 'em."
— Margaret Walsh, "Good People" by David Lindsay-Abaire

Look What's in the News!
National Public Radio ran a story on March 18th about Good People, the most produced play in regional theaters across the country. Clearly the themes, the humor, and the rich characters have struck a nerve with people around the country -- not just us in Madison. Listen to playwright David Lindsay-Abaire discuss his own experiences with class conflict, growing up in Boston in a working class family.

A Return to Southie, by Way of Broadway

By CHARLES McGRATH

Published in the New York Times: February 3, 2011

THE playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for “Rabbit Hole,” grew up in South Boston — Southie, as it’s known. Southie, the setting of his much anticipated Broadway follow-up, “Good People,” is a neighborhood of narrow streets and small houses jammed together on a peninsula jutting into Boston Harbor and cut off from downtown by an old shipping channel. Even to some Bostonians, growing up here is a little like growing up on the moon. They know the place mostly from gritty movies set there, like “Good Will Hunting” and “The Departed.”

Until fairly recently, when gentrifiers began slipping in, the neighborhood was Irish, Catholic and working class, and famously proud, insular, stubborn and independent. Southie was the home of the mobster Whitey Bulger, a local hero to many. In the mid-’70s it was a bastion of anti-busing sentiment — not, many residents insisted, because people in Southie had anything against blacks but because they didn’t care for outsiders, period. And the place has always been known for the local brand of dark humor, which thrives on misery and adversity.

While not autobiographical, “Good People” is the first of Mr. Lindsay-Abaire’s plays to explore the world he came from, and it features a character who, like him, moves away and becomes a success. Now 41, he lives in the Ditmas Park section of Brooklyn with his wife and two children. But on a bitterly cold day a couple of weeks ago, when the shipping channel was nearly frozen solid and residents had staked out their carefully shoveled parking spots with traffic cones and lawn chairs, he dropped by the old neighborhood for the first time in a while, to wander around and to talk about the play, which stars Frances McDormand, Tate Donovan, and Estelle Parsons. It begins previews on Tuesday at the Friedman Theater.

Mr. Lindsay-Abaire is a small, chunky man who seems unusually at home in his own skin and seldom stops smiling. He strolled around Southie, pointing out landmarks, as if pleased to discover that the place was still there. He stopped by his old house on West Fifth Street and explained that his mother had been born there. When he was a boy, she worked in an electronics factory, making circuit boards, while his father, also a Southie native, sold fruit from the back of a truck.

He was just David Abaire back then (he picked up the extra name when he married the actress Chris Lindsay in 1994) and spent nearly every afternoon at the local Boys Club (later a Boys and Girls Club) a few blocks away. Jennifer Gordon, a friend who still lives in the old neighborhood, recalled: “David was a smart kid right from the get-go. The rest of us would go there to goof off, but he was always there doing his homework. You knew that this kid was going somewhere.”

She added that at Harvard Law School, where she works, someone will every now and then give a surprised look upon learning that she’s from Southie. “I tell them, I grew up next door to a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, so back off,” she said. “I love being able to say that.”

Pattie McCormick and Anne Gordon (no relation to Jennifer), two staff members from Mr. Lindsay-Abaire’s time, still work at the club, and they greeted him warmly but deferentially, as if he were a visiting prelate, before showing him around, pointing out what had changed (new gym, new computers, new guinea pigs to replace the ones that had passed on) and what hadn’t (the basement swimming pool, the weird upstairs room planked with logs so that it looks like the inside of a log cabin).

“When I was a kid, I thought this was the best place in the world,” he said, beaming and shaking his head, “and now it seems even better to me.”

Ms. McCormick and Anne Gordon (who still has a folder of poems and stories that Mr. Lindsay-Abaire wrote for the club newspaper when he was 10 or 11) engineered an early break by helping him win a scholarship to Milton Academy, the prep school south of Boston, awarded by the Boston Boys and Girls Clubs every six years. The scholarship had typically gone to an athlete, Ms. Gordon explained, and though Mr. Lindsay-Abaire didn’t know it at the time, she and Ms. McCormick lobbied hard for an exception to be made in his case.

“He was special,” Ms. Gordon said. “We knew it even then.”

It was at Milton that Mr. Lindsay-Abaire began acting and writing plays, and indirectly the school also helped inspire his new play. “Good People” is about social class, a subject that American theater for some reason seems to explore much less often than race. It’s the story of Margaret Walsh, a jobless, smart-mouthed single mother from Southie, who barges into the life and home of an old high school boyfriend who escaped from the neighborhood, became a doctor and now lives in the swanky suburb of Chestnut Hill.

“Class is something I know about,” Mr. Lindsay-Abaire said. “I’ve lived it every day of my life, and it shaped me in my identity.”

He recalled that on school vacations he would go home and watch TV for a week while seemingly everyone else at Milton went off somewhere and came back with a tan.

Debbie Simon, who teaches English and public speaking at Milton and was Mr. Lindsay-Abaire’s coach on the speech team, said recently: “I’m sure it was foreign to him at first, but he adapted and was embraced by the school in less than a minute. He was remarkable right from the beginning. He wrote a play for his 10th-grade class to put on. That was unheard of at Milton then.

“He was the kind of kid who was always saying: ‘Well, how about if we do this? What do you think?’ His enthusiasm was contagious. This was all a while back, but I remember it as if it were yesterday.”

Mr. Lindsay-Abaire’s cheerful good nature and seeming lack of class anxiety doubtless owe something to his charmed career. He has had five plays produced, all by the Manhattan Theater Club, where he is now a cherished regular on the order of Terrence McNally or John Patrick Shanley. He wrote the book for the musical “High Fidelity” and the book and lyrics for “Shrek the Musical”; he wrote the screenplays for “Inkheart,” “Robots” and themovie version of “Rabbit Hole,” currently in theaters, and is working now with Sam Raimi (director of the “Spider-Man” movies) on a film prequel to “The Wizard of Oz.”

But people who know Mr. Lindsay-Abaire also remark all the time about how kind he is.

“He has a personal generosity in him that also pervades his work,” said Daniel Sullivan, the director of “Good People” and the stage version of “Rabbit Hole.” “There aren’t bad people in this play. He has such affection for the world he grew up in, and he sees every point of view.”

Mr. Lindsay-Abaire’s early work is often compared to Christopher Durang’s, not inappropriately, even if his plays aren’t as angry or scabrous. The first play he ever acted in was Mr. Durang’s “History of the American Film,” and Mr. Durang and the playwright Marsha Norman taught Mr. Lindsay-Abaire at Juilliard, where he went after graduating from Sarah Lawrence. You can see the Durang influence, as well as a Southie streak, in the way Mr. Lindsay-Abaire combines whimsy, farce and black comedy. “Fuddy Meers,” his first play, was about an amnesiac whose memory is erased every time she goes to sleep. “Kimberly Akimbo,” his third, was about a teenage girl with a progeria-like disease that causes her to age and waste away.

“Rabbit Hole,” on other hand, about a married couple grieving over the death of their young son, is written in the style of old-fashioned realism. Tate Donovan, who plays the doctor in “Good People,” also appeared in a Los Angeles production of “Rabbit Hole” and recalled recently that when he read the script, he said to himself: “Is this the same dude who wrote ‘Fuddy Meers’? No way.”

“Rabbit Hole” was a conscious departure, according Mr. Lindsay-Abaire.

“I wanted to see if I could write a naturalistic play,” he said. “I’ve been pretty well treated by the critics, but the critics who didn’t like my comedies hated them with an unbridled passion, and then I would see these same people writing very respectfully about ordinary naturalistic plays. So a bitter, angry part of me was saying I could write one of those damn plays if I wanted to.”

The idea for “Rabbit Hole” didn’t come to him until years later, however, when, himself the father of a young son, he began hearing stories about parents who had lost children.

“I remembered something Marsha Norman said at Juilliard,” he said. “She said, if you want to write a good play, write about the thing that frightens you the most.”

Mr. Lindsay-Abaire hasn’t ruled out returning to his old mode, and even has an absurdist play in mind. But “Good People” had to be done in realistic style, he went on, because he didn’t want to make his characters ridiculous.

“I don’t want to be didactic about class,” he said. “I thought, Let me write about the people I know and love and class will bubble up inevitably.”

Comparing himself to Mike, the doctor character in “Good People,” who is ambivalent about his Southie origins, proud of them in a way but also dismissive of those who didn’t get an education and move out, he said: “I’m a lot less conflicted. I’ve worked really hard, but I know people who have worked even harder but didn’t have the chances I’ve had.

“We have this myth that if you work hard, you can accomplish anything. It’s not a very American thing to say, but I don’t think that’s true. It’s true for a lot of people, but you need other things to succeed. You need luck, you need opportunity, and you need the life skills to recognize what an opportunity is.”