I went into “Good People” not knowing much about it. I knew it was an award-winning dark comedy set in Boston, but not much else. Most of the time, I’m going to see a show because I’m already familiar with it, whether through film versions or previous productions, so I enjoy the opportunity to go in “blind” when possible. One of my coworkers and I made a night of it, enjoying burgers from Oscar’s and a stop at 42 Lounge (thumbs up to both!) before heading for the theater.
The show was at once funnier and less of a “comedy” than I expected. There are multiple laugh-out-loud lines, some stacked to the point that you lost a few of the lines in between because the audience was laughing so hard. But under the jokes, the narrative is a very poignant representation of the cycle of poverty. It takes place in Boston’s impoverished “Southie” neighborhood, but it’s easy to draw the parallels between this neighborhood and ones a lot closer to home. I said above that I enjoyed going in blind, but I think that the Rep in Depth Pre-Show talk was really helpful in preparing me for the show, so I’d recommend arriving early to attend that, especially if you’re unfamiliar with some of the history of Southie and the playwright.
There are a lot of colorful characters in this show, but the stage definitely belongs to Laura Gordon, playing the lead role of Margie. I knew from press surrounding the show that Gordon was reprising the role after a much-lauded performance in Madison, and her familiarity with the character definitely shines through in this production. Margie is a woman of contradictions, a sharp-tongued “ball buster” with a surprisingly warm heart still tucked inside, a mix of innocence and cunning. She’s never had a break in life, but she still hopes for the best, maybe because that’s the only way to keep going. She’s immensely likable, and it definitely leaves an audience member squirming in their seat to realize that if they met in real life, they might treat her the same way her old flame who “escaped” the neighborhood does.
I really loved the production design for this show; the ever-changing sets are sparse, taking up very little room on the stage and leaving the rest in hazy darkness. Especially after the intricate and luxurious sets for Harvey, the last performance I saw on the Powerhouse stage, it was a stark reflection of the poverty the characters find themselves in. There’s only one “complete” set in the show, and it’s no surprise that it represents the well-appointed living room of Margie’s ex-boyfriend, now a respectable doctor who serves on the board of the same organization that gave him a boost in life.
If you go see “Good People,” be prepared to laugh, but also to think. There’s a message about class here that I think deserves recognition, especially considering the deep divide that exists in our own city.
Good People runs now through Feb. 15 in the Quadracci Powerhouse at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater