Welcome to South Boston’s Lower End, where jobs are scarce, opportunities are few and the highest praise ever leveled at a local is that they’re “good people.”
It’s the kind of hardscrabble neighborhood where a woman might shoplift an entire Christmas dinner under her clothes, or throw herself on the mercy of an ex to find employment.
Southie is the setting — and the underlying spirit — of David Lindsay-Abaire’s play “Good People.” Directed by David Carey Foster, the drama runs through Sept. 21 at San Luis Obispo Little Theatre.
Margaret Walsh (Patty Thayer) — Margie to her friends — has spent her entire life in Southie, going from teen single mom to middle-aged wage slave. When she’s fired from her job as a Dollar Tree cashier, she and her developmentally disabled daughter Joyce risk being tossed out on the streets — by one of her best friends, Dottie (Anita Shwaber), no less.
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On the advice of another friend, Jean (Elaine Fournier), Margie seeks out an old flame in the hopes he might have a job for her.
Once a kid from the projects, Michael “Mikey” Dillon (Gregg Wolff) is now a doctor with a nice house in tony Chestnut Hill. “You’re all ‘lace-curtain Irish’ now,” Margie exclaims, implying that he’s lost touch with his working-class roots. “You’re rich.”
No, he counters, he’s “comfortable.” “You’re comfortable. Okay, I guess that makes me uncomfortable,” Margie replies.
Despite his protests that “I’m still a Southie kid at heart,” Mike does seem ill at ease with this specter from his past. Even after Margie jokingly cajoles him into inviting her to his birthday party — one of his wealthy friends might want to employ her, she suggests — it’s clear much remains unspoken between the former sweethearts.
In keeping with the setting, San Luis Obispo Little Theatre’s production of “Good People” keeps David Linfield’s sets and Randal Lee Sumabat’s costumes low-key. Managing artistic director Kevin Harris serves as lighting designer.
Delving into issues of class, economics and social mobility, the drama examines why some people escape their circumstances and others don’t. Is it luck? Smarts? The support of a family member?
As Margie says, “It’s normal to struggle. Most people struggle.” But is struggle enough?
Patty Thayer adopts a broad Bah-ston accent to play good-natured, down-to-earth Margie, whose favorite refrain is “I’m just busting your balls.” She receives ample assistance, both in terms of comic relief and dramatic depth, from Elaine Fournier as mean Jean — an admitted troublemaker dubbed “the mouthie from Southie” — and Anita Schwaber as dour Dottie.
As Margie’s foil Mike, Gregg Wolff faces the difficult task of eliciting sympathy for a man who has cut most ties with his past. He may be physically and financially removed from his former circumstances, he argues, but he’s worked hard to get there.
Rounding out the cast are Christopher Riordan as young bingo enthusiast Stevie, who represents the new face of Southie and Natalia Salsbury as Kate, Mike’s well-meaning wife. Sympathetic to Margie’s plight yet wary of her intentions, she’s shocked to discover the difference between her husband’s Horatio Alger-esque tales of his past and the true nature of his upbringing.
Salty language — swear words and occasional casual racism — makes “Good People” most suitable for mature audiences. But the subject matter will resonate with nearly anyone — young or old, poor or well-off — affected by the Great Recession.