NEW LEBANON, N.Y. — A little bit of South Boston — Southie — comes to New Lebanon this week when Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People” begins a two-weekend run Thursday, Sept. 9 at The Theater Barn.
Set primarily in South Boston’s Lower End, the play, which premiered at Manhattan Theatre Club in New York in 2011, focuses on Margaret — better known to her friends as Margie (with a hard “g”) — a feisty, scrappy 50-something blue-collar single mother whose daughter requires constant attention.
Margie is up against it. She’s been fired from her job at a local dollar store and is facing likely eviction from the apartment she rents from a friend, Dottie, who lives upstairs.
She’s a high school dropout who's been unable to hold a job and the prospects for finding work are, at best, limited.
Margie seizes on a possible way out of her dilemma when she learns that an old high school flame, Mike Dillon, who got out of Southie, has returned to Boston after years away and established a successful medical practice. On the urging of a friend, Margie contacts Mike and arranges to meet him at his office in the hope he will offer her a job. It’s a meeting that leads to a far more consequential encounter at Mike’s Chestnut Hill home before the play returns to Southie for a resolution that turns on something unexpected.
“[Margie] may have dropped out of high school, but she’s intuitive. She knows how to push Mike’s buttons,” said well-known regional actress Kathleen Carey, who is playing Margie in director Phil Rice’s production.
“She’s Southie, from the Lower End and she’s proud of being Southie.”
“I don’t think [Mike] is a great guy but it’s not all black and white,” said Christopher Brophy, who is playing Mike.
Brophy is a Pittsfield native who left the city after graduating high school “to live my life as an actor,” he said, and recently returned to look after his mother.
“Mike never gave back. He got out of Southie and everything worked out for him. He married a doctor’s daughter,” Brophy said. “He is a charmer. He is complicated.”
Rice directs the theater program at North Colonie Central School District in Latham, N.Y. The freelance director’s numerous directing credits at The Theater Barn include Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage” (with Carey in the cast) and Agatha Christie’s “Witness for the Prosecution.” He’s been wanting to direct “Good People” ever since he saw a production several years ago in Albany, N.Y. He loves the play’s blend of comedy and pathos.
In this play, Rice said, Lindsay-Abaire is asking who’s good people and what does that mean — especially in an environment in which life is a matter of day-to-day survival?
“All these people are facing something that is out of control,” said Allen Phelps, Theater Barn producing artistic director, during a socially-distanced in-person interview in the Theater Barn lobby, where he was joined by Rice, Carey and Brophy.
Carey is a Troy, N.Y., native whose acting credits include productions at Albany Civic Theater, Curtain Call, Hubbard Hall, Schenectady Civic Playhouse and The Theater Barn. She was drawn to “Good People” by two things: First, the opportunity to work again with Rice (they’ve collaborated on several productions at The Theater Barn and various theaters in New York’s Capital District) — “It’s a complicated play,” she said. “I know I’m in good hands with Phil;” second, Lindsay-Abaire’s writing. The role of Margie is “right in my wheelhouse,” Carey said. “I love learning the words, finding the nuances in Margie, the range of emotions in each scene, finding those ups and downs.”
In addition to “Good People,” Lindsay-Abaire’s plays include “Fuddy Meers,” “Kimberly Akimbo,” the book for “Shrek: The Musical,” “Wonder of the World” and his Pulitzer Prize-winning “Rabbit Hole.”
Phelps is hopeful Theater Barn audiences will connect to “Good People’s” themes and the rich human dimensions of Lindsay-Abaire’s characters.
Phelps was born and raised in New Lebanon; spent a number of years away in Boston, coming back in summers to work at the theater. He’s now back to stay. He’s taken over running The Theater Barn from his parents, Joan and Abe Phelps, who founded the non-Equity theater 37 years ago. He also operates a food truck that specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches.
“I’m here. This is me,” he said.
Because there are so many layers to the play and its characters, Phelps is hoping theatergoers will see “Good People” more than once.
“These characters can be pushed to the limit,” he said, “but they are good people.”