The heroine of David Lindsay-Abaire’s new Broadway drama, Good People, lives miles away from the characters in his Pulitzer-winning play Rabbit Hole. Memorably played by Frances McDormand with a potent mix of prickly aggression and bruised-feeling withdrawal, Margaret is a middle-aged woman in South Boston’s Lower End. At the start of the play, she is fired from the dollar store where she works due to her perpetual tardiness — she’s usually late because of a grown daughter with serious development issues still living at home. This is a woman who has made serious sacrifices in her life — as the events of this remarkable and timely new play make clear.
Margaret learns that her high school beau, a guy named Mike (Tate Donovan) who managed to escape the hood and make good as a physician, has returned to the Boston area and is living in hoity-toity suburb Chestnut Hill. She seeks him out, ostensibly looking for a job or at least leads on a job, but really to satisfy her curiosity and ponder the possibilities of what might have been. Their encounters, first in his wood-paneled office and later in his comfortably furnished home (after she finagles an invitation to his birthday party), are a perfect study in passive-aggression as each nurses hurt feelings and misgivings about the divergent paths their lives have taken.
Under Daniel Sullivan’s crisp direction, the performances are terrific: Becky Ann Baker and the hilarious Estelle Parsons as Margaret’s friends and bingo companions, Patrick Carroll as the boss who is forced to let her go lest he lose his own job, and Renée Elise Goldsberry as Mike’s much younger wife, who nurses a few resentments of her own towards him. But the standout is McDormand, in a role of great complexity and subtlety. Margaret is a blunt-talking, sometimes outright-confrontational woman — but she uses that surface combativeness to mask an ingrained recessiveness, a false Southie sense of pride that often works against her own self-interest. She appears destined to make the same mistakes — she’d call them choices, however inscrutable they might seem to outsiders — over and over again. And McDormand captures all of Margaret’s contradictions with sensitivity and depth, and the haggard, haunted look of a hamster that’s spent too long on the treadmill but lacks the wherewithal and the means to stop. A-
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