"Good People" begins with Margaret "Margie" Walsh, played by Johanna Day, a born and raised "Southie" struggling to make ends meet with a job that pays a few dollars above minimum wage. In a darkly humorous reflection of real life, only a few minutes into the play she finds herself struggling to make ends meet with no job at all.
What follows is the story that many will empathize with: a single middle-aged mother searching for a job in a bad economy.
Already placed in a situation that is difficult for most, Margie also has the additional challenge of caring for her mentally challenged adult daughter.
Curiously, although Margie’s daughter remains a central topic throughout the play, the character does not make an actual appearance on stage, have any lines, and is represented solely through strategic sound effects.
But Margie is not alone in her journey to find new employment. Her support system consists of her landlord Dottie, played by Rosemary Knower, who is more than willing to evict Margie when she may not be able to pay her rent, and Margie’s friend Jean, played by Amy McWilliams, whose advice is somewhat shaky at best.
Margie’s efforts to find new employment eventually lead her to meet her old boyfriend Mike, played by Andrew Long, who has become a prestigious doctor since their breakup and his departure from town. After a tense yet comical verbal exchange, Margie slowly needles Mike until he makes her an empty half-hearted invitation to his upcoming birthday party so that she can see if any of his friends are looking to hire.
When Mike later calls saying that the party has been cancelled, Margie sees it as an attempt for him to sneak his way out of his earlier invitation and decides to go to Mike’s home anyway.
It is in Mike’s home that old secrets are revealed, emotions rise, and the actors display the full range of their acting talent.
Day plays the character of Margie Walsh well while portraying the character as the role deserves: a proud and honest woman with a realistic, if sometimes bluntly stated, view on life. While the play is a dark comedy, Day delivers her lines not as a soliciting comedian, but as an actor whose carefully constructed sarcasm naturally elicits laughter while respectful of the fact that for some, her character’s situation is no laughing matter.
Meanwhile, Long does an admirable job of playing a character that walks the line between being a determined man driven to be successful and an unrepentant narcissist. His character’s claim that his success is solely created from his own hard work and choices rather than luck and unique circumstances is a conversation that has existed before the play’s start and will continue long after its end.
Francesca Choy-kee portrayal of Mike’s wife Kate was a pleasant surprise. The character, which only appears in one scene late in the play, has the potential to be one-dimensional. Choy-kee, however, plays the role in such a way that, although the climax focuses on the characters of Mike and Margie, it is evident that Kate is no passive spectator.
One of the most interesting aspects of this play is that the very last moments of the ending reflect the current state of many families during a difficult economy: living a life of tense uncertainty, not knowing when and where they will find the money they need, and if they can find or even hold onto the job they have.
"Good People" runs through March 10 at Arena Stage at 1101 Sixth Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024. For more information visit the Arena Stage website.