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Good People, Great Theater

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Playwright and Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire had been intending to write about his old neighborhood for a long time, but he never felt he was mature enough -- as a writer or as a person -- to take on the challenge. For him, the "old neighborhood" is South Boston, affectionately known as "Southie." It's traditionally known as a predominantly Irish-American, working-class neighborhood, though the neighborhood is evolving and its demographics are rapidly changing.

His goal was to write about the issue of class without whipping out his soapbox and preaching to his audience, while at the same time banishing the stereotypes of drunks and mobsters that still plague the neighborhood -- to write about the "salt of the earth people" he knew growing up. The result is Good People, a play rich with nuanced characters, tough questions and sharp Southie slang.

Good People challenges the idea of an objectively "good" person, and makes viewers reconsider their preconceptions.  - KEN HUTH
  • Ken Huth
  • Good People challenges the idea of an objectively "good" person, and makes viewers reconsider their preconceptions.

In Good People, single mother Margie Walsh is struggling to care for her handicapped adult daughter after losing her job. In dire straits and hoping for help finding employment, Margie contacts an old boyfriend originally from Southie who has since become a successful doctor. In the ensuing fallout, one is left to wonder whether it is hard work or just plain good luck that decides a person's fate, and what, if anything, constitutes a good person.

Constance Macy, Peggy Cosgrave and Dee Pelletier are all featured in Good People. - KEN HUTH
  • Ken Huth
  • Constance Macy, Peggy Cosgrave and Dee Pelletier are all featured in Good People.

Lindsay-Abaire expands on this concept, explaining, "When the play starts, all of the characters define themselves as good people, and they have different definitions about what that means, and for everyone watching the play or reading the script, the definition of what a good person is differs from person to person as well. Then, in the course of writing the play, [I discovered] the characters living through the play have to reassess what it means to be a good person, and we realize that that phrase is a very malleable thing."

Happily for Indianapolis, Good People premieres at the Indiana Repertory Theatre on Jan. 7, directed by Mark Cuddy. The cast includes Constance Macy as Margie, as well as Nick Abeel, Peggy Cosgrave, Dee Pelletier, Sean Patrick Reilly, and Nicole Lewis. IRT associate Cat Cardwell notes that the play was chosen for this season "not only because it is excellent work, but because it creates so many memorable impressions that will keep us debating long after the show is over."

She continues, "We make theater for a variety of reasons: sometimes to entertain, sometimes to question, sometimes to affirm. This play does all of these things. It takes us on a roller coaster ride of human experience that can only happen in live theater."

Plus, Lindsay-Abaire has managed to do the enviable: tackle hefty social issues and big questions while still keeping the jokes rolling. He admits that his humor is "very Southie -- dark and inappropriate." He says that it comes from "those people in the neighborhood that would process their hardships with humor."

Constance Macy plays Good People's lead -- a single mother from the south side of Boston, named Margie.  - KEN HUTH
  • Ken Huth
  • Constance Macy plays Good People's lead -- a single mother from the south side of Boston, named Margie.

Lindsay-Abaire, who himself straddled the class divide when he attended a suburban private school as a child, does it again now as he deftly writes about the clash between those who left Southie behind for bigger and better things and those who remained behind. South Boston residents have praised the play for its honesty, but the play's accessibility isn't limited only to one neighborhood. People from Seattle, North Dakota and beyond have approached Lindsay-Abaire to tell him how deeply relatable and familiar they found his characters.

"That was the mosty gratifying thing," he said. "It made me breathe this huge sigh of relief that, yes, I've put my people up on stage, but they were other people's people, too. Take the accent away, and they belong to other people."

We're guessing Indianapolis residents will feel exactly the same way.

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