Through a twist of fate, the Southie classmates at the center of Asolo Repertory’s stirring show “Good People” have had wildly different life experiences. Dr. Mike Dillon (Tim Grimm) is living the American Dream; and Margie Walsh (Denise Cormier) is living the American reality.
Mike managed to “get out” of the projects in South Boston and leave behind his one-time love interest Margie. He is a very successful endocrinologist who has nary a trace of Southie in him until he is pushed to the brink. Margie, on the other hand, has been barely scraping by during the thirty-some years since the two have seen each other.
When we meet Margie, she is begging her young boss, the son of a deceased friend, to let her keep her job as a cashier at the Dollar Store, even offering to take a pay cut to her starting salary of $8.30 an hour. Her job is the only thing that separates her and her adult daughter with disabilities, from ending up like a former schoolmate named Cookie who is living on the street. Although we never see Cookie onstage, she remains an ever-present reminder of Margie’s potential fate if she doesn’t find a new job quickly.
Margie does have friends – hard-scrabble Jean (Anne-Marie Cusson) and Dotty (Peggy Roeder), her landlord, who can sometimes be counted on to watch Margie’s daughter Joyce. Cusson and Cormier are terrific together as lifelong friends who rely on one another to keep things light despite the dark places their lives take them.
A few weeks ago, the United Way of Florida released what they refer to as the “ALICE report” which revealed that nearly 50% of Floridian households are Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed (ALICE), and any “false move” – a job loss, a car repair, or some dental work, could result in a descent to poverty. Margie, Jean, and Dotty are ALICE, and Margie is quickly slipping below.
In contrast, Mike has transcended a difficult childhood to live an upper-class life Margie cannot even imagine. He has a gorgeous wife Kate (Tyla Abercrumbie), a professor at Boston University (“Harvard wasn’t interested?” asks Margie), a young daughter, and a house in Chestnut Hill. Yet he is rankled when Margie calls him “lace curtain.” His rough upbringing is a part of his personal mythology that he likes to play up to set him apart in his upper class circles; and yet, here is Margie, whom he calls “his evidence,” piercing holes in the fabric of his story.
“Good People” is a brilliant depiction of the truth behind some of the well-worn class cliches that get trotted out during elections, such as the myth of the “noble poor” and the faulty notion that anyone in the US, despite their circumstances, can pull themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps. The show makes its audience uncomfortable, and it should. The reality of structural inequities that can result in a Mike making his way to a house on a hill while Margie, Jean, and Dotty live in abject poverty is something we must address. Notably, the women who are the child bearers lack mobility; and there is an interesting irony that Mike has become a doctor for women with high-risk pregnancies.
The crackling chemistry among Abercrumbie, Grimm, and Cormier is tremendous as the threesome go tumbling from cautious niceties to raw and terrifying ferocity, as secrets are revealed. When the tension finally broke at the conclusion of the show, the audience leapt to their feet in celebration of the talented cast.
You only have a few more weeks to catch “Good People” which ends on March 1st at Asolo Repertory Theatre. For tickets go to http://www.asolorep.org/