Chicago Theatre Review
Steppenwolf Keeps the Door Open for Good People
While listening to the recent Democratic National Convention, a quote from Michelle Obama stood out to me: “When you've worked hard, and done well, and walked through that door of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you.” As I listened, I wondered, if one was to make it out through that door, out of the refuse of a thousand broken projects steps and tainted little Cul-de-sacs, out of a sea of debt and endless arrays of hopelessness, what would become of the community and those that have in part been forgotten? The answer to this question, penned by Pulitzer prize winning playwright David Lindsay Abaire, is currently running at Steppenwolf Theatre
Within David Abaire's superbly written drama, Good People, we get to see first hand the slick maneuvers and rhetoric executed by the poor in South Boston's Dorchester Neck community. Referred to by its inhabitants as Southie, it is reminiscent of more than a few of the low income housing projects scattered throughout Chicago's more neglected districts. At the top of the show we find the heroine of the poorly educated and credit -debt ladened working class, Margaret (played sympathetically by Marrian Mayberry), already at the losing end of a high-stakes version of The Game of Life. Within the first scene of the show, she loses her 9 dollar an hour job at the at the hands of a sniffling boss about 20 years her junior. She is forced into a world where enemies may become saviors and old friends are less than empathic to her cause.
In this vibrant production directed by K. Todd Freeman, Margret's struggle slushes out over the audience by way of Marrian Mayberry's tenaciousness and her solid portrayal of Margret as the every man or woman gone awry. The scars of anguish welled up from years of stress, poverty and the burden of caring for a handicapped daughter exercise themselves during her interactions with her cohort Jean(titillating played by Lusia Strus). Jean's empathy extends from the heart but not the pockets. Margrets' land lord Dottie (played whimsically by Molly Regan) also adds pressure with her humorous yet frighteningly business minded practicality.
With our nation in an economic down turn, with jobs lost and an air of desperation circulating in some communities, those that are poor, and those without voices deserve some saint or martyr. With a bit of fine tuning on the part of the ensemble, Margret could quite possibly step up to the task.
Marian never allows herself to flex Margret's full deck of cards. Margret's status as a victim is trumped far too often. To survive so long, in suc
h horrible conditions, Margaret must be a tactician and a carefully calculating opportunist. This slight advantage was ignored in the production and because of this, Margret often seemed pressed under the weight of her lowly economic status and never becomes the superpower she is designated to be within Abaire's beautifully written script. This is seen more concretely when Margret finds herself in the company of Mike, (Keith Kupferer) an ex street brawler turned high-end doctor who has become far too wealthy, exclusionary, and lace-curtain to be bothered with his old Southie stomping buddies and his wife (played byAlana Arenas), who tries her best to widdle away at the fury of Southie – that Mike attempts bury underneath his class.
This slight issue aside, the play is wonderful and without question one of the best shows in Chicago in recent years. As a fan of Abaire's ever since I first encountered his pulitzer prize winning play Rabbit Hole, I can say without question that the man has and will only get better. Good People raises questions concerning class, the dissemination of our countries wealth, the drawbacks of missed opportunities and our human proclivity to forget the things in our lives that bring us the most pain.
If ever there were a time when you yourself were poor, caught in the clangor of economic oppression, dodging sleuthing land lords and stumbling into one minimum wage job after another, Good People is one of the few plays in the city doing you justice. If you haven't gotten the chance to experience these turmoils first hand, then Steppenwolf's production of Good People will do a little more than bring you up to speed. It will unravel for you the complex inner workings of the isolated, tired, often ignored poor, and the desperate singles mothers that you may often drift by on your daily commutes on the L-Train to work. If you do see them, at least, be sure to keep the door open behind you.
GOOD PEOPLE begins previews September 13 (Opening Night is September 23; Press Performances are September 22 at 3pm and September 25 at 7:30pm) and runs through November 11, 2012 in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre (1650 N Halsted St). Tickets ($20 – $86) are on sale now (prices are subject to change).
Shawn L. Price