Why do bad things happen to good people? Sometimes it's because they weren't lucky enough in their lives. And with that depressing thought is David Lindsay-Abaire's "Good People."
Similar to "Rabbit Hole," his naturalistic drama about a couple coping with the death of their child (and who earned Nicole Kidman an Oscar nomination for the movie adaptation), Lindsay-Abaire explores the plight of working people in his newest play, "Good People." It's drama that is centered around the domestic, real world.
Francis McDormand, who earned an Oscar for "Fargo," plays the thickly-accented, south Boston-dwelling Margie. Her life is hard: she had just been laid off from her job and she is the mother of an adult-aged, mentally-impaired girl. When an high school love comes back into her life after 30 years, Mike Dillon (Tate Donovan), she uses it as an opportunity to find a job.
Yet what ensues instead is an exploration of class, Mike is now a upper-middle-class fertility doctor. It is a twist on that notion of pulling yourself up by your boot strap. Is that ever really the case or are people just lucky?
"You escaped, I didn't," Margie says to Mike when he asks her why she stayed in south Boston.
It is also a testament to the value of pride, especially its great worth especially for a person so downtrodden and poor.
Francis McDormand, who I last saw in "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day," puts aside the refined veneer that she had in that film. Her Margie is crass, abrasive and within it all, tragically desperate. Despite being initially turned off by her behavior, you slowly start to sympathize and almost love her for all of her faults and all of her virtues. Yet don't let that love blind you, because Margie would not want your pity.
Tate Donovan plays off of her wonderfully, with a slight touch of wariness, caution and false familiarity. You can see his discomfort in being around her and how he tries to forget about that girl he knew 30 years ago.
That tension comes to a head in Act II but not quite a way that is predictable. But it's real. When Mike loses control, it's a shocking moment for the audience (and for a ceramic, googly-eyed rabbit).
Renée Elise Goldsberry plays Kate, Mike's wife, who is simultaneous funny yet also unsettling in her demeanor. She has also seen rough times in her marriage, though such pathos is never readily explained, something which detracts from the well-rounded nature of the play.
Becky Ann Baker as Jean, Patrick Carroll as Stevie and Estelle Parsons as Dottie balance out the tension with their humor. Though their appearances are relatively brief, they make an impression and in the end, it's the least likely character who ends up bringing a play to its resolution, in a turn that is unexpected yet appropriate.
Director Daniel Sullivan keeps the mood quiet, almost lethargic. When the funny moments come, they are met with resounding laughter; the destructive moments greeted with gasps.
And that's the way it should be in live theater.
What: "Good People" at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater in New York City
When: Until May 29
Discounts: The Manhattan Theatre Club's 30 Under 30 Program. Where those under 30 years old can buy tickets to the club's productions for $30.