NEW LEBANON, N.Y. — It’s been a while — three years — since Kathleen Carey last graced a stage; elder care responsibilities, then the pandemic. Now, the well-known veteran Capital District-area actress is back. She’s at The Theater Barn in director Phil Rice’s generally admirable production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s remarkably written “Good People,” a bittersweet comedy-drama about a group of economically challenged people living in South Boston’s Lower End who do the best they can to look after themselves, protect what’s theirs, make do and survive while causing as little damage as possible.
Carey plays Margie, a feisty, scrappy, roughly 50-year-old high school dropout. She is a single mother of an intellectually- and developmentally- challenged prematurely-born adult daughter.
Margie does the best she can with the hand she’s been dealt. She’s had trouble holding on to a job; indeed, as “Good People” begins she is being fired from her job as a clerk in a dollar store. She’s been late too many times, her boss says, and he can’t protect her any longer without jeopardizing his own job. It’s not the first time she’s been fired.
Margie is also on the verge of being evicted from the apartment she rents from a high school friend, Dottie, who lives upstairs and may need Margie’s apartment for her adult son and suddenly out-of-work daughter-in-law.
Margie, Dottie (Lisa Franklin) and another girlfriend since high school, Jean (Angela Portikus), who works for a catering firm that is cutting back hours, spend much of their leisure time playing bingo at the church parish hall.
Margie seizes on one ray of hope when Jean mentions that an old high school flame of Margie — Mike Dillon (Christopher Brophy), with whom she had a summer affair — is back in Boston, having left Southie and the Lower End projects in which he was raised to attend the University of Pennsylvania. Now, after having lived in Washington, D.C. for several years, Mike has returned to Boston and established a successful medical practice. He has a home in Boston’s tony Chestnut Hill which he shares with his Black wife, Kate (Kim Wafer), who is roughly 20 years younger, and their daughter, Ally.
At Jean’s prompting, Margie arranges to meet an uneasy Michael (Christopher Brophy) in the hope he can find work for her. The meeting leads to an invitation to Margie to come to a weekend-night birthday party Kate is giving him at their home. Ostensibly in the hope that one of Michael’s guests might be willing to offer her work, Margie accepts. But when Michael subsequently calls Margie to tell her the party has been canceled, she shows up anyway in the belief that he is lying.
The meat on the bones of “Good People” is the second act meeting among Margie, Mike and Kate who, as played by Wafer, is a graceful, gracious, welcoming, intelligent, compassionate woman.
At one point, Kate playfully asks Margie to dish out some dirt about the Michael she knew when; secrets. That old saw, “Be careful what you wish for,” surfaces, big time, and while some of Kate’s responses are not what one might expect, there is a bombshell or two. By the time Margie has left, life for Kate, not to mention her already shaky marriage, will not be the same.
Lindsay-Abaire’s particular skill lies in not spelling everything out for us. He has fashioned fully-dimensional, intensely human characters in all their complexities and nuances.
Carey approaches Margie with fearless intensity. She is all in, top to bottom, outside and within. Margie is not the easiest character to like but she is, in Carey’s hands, her own worst enemy; brash, challenging, vulnerable and oh, so interesting.
Rice has formed a tight, skillful ensemble around her. Brophy’s Michael is a finely tuned construct of a man who, for all the social and professional skills he has learned to wear in his years away from Southie, is not really quite that removed. Brophy is astute in his ability to catch the duality Michael is forced to confront, in all its shadings, nuances and ramifications, when Margie reappears in his life.
Franklin is fine as Margie’s landlady and friend, Dottie; Portikas is especially effective as Jean, perhaps Margie’s best of friends, even if her well-intentioned advice has unforeseen consequences; and Joseph Sicotte is credible as Margie’s boss, Stevie, who is caught between a rock and a hard place and manages to find a way out.
The pacing and rhythm at the performance I attended was a bit rough and uncertain in places but you kind of have faith that in the hands of this cast those rough edges will become smoother as the run progresses. When this production is on certain ground, it crackles. It’s the stuff of good theater.