The haves versus the have-nots at Syracuse Stage

Elizabeth Rich (Jean) and Kate Hodge (Margie) as the tough-as-nails best friends in 'Good People.'  Photo: Roger Mastroianni

Elizabeth Rich (Jean) and Kate Hodge (Margie) as the tough-as-nails best friends in ‘Good People.’
Photo: Roger Mastroianni

Good People
Who Syracuse Stage
Where 820 E. Genesee St, Syracuse
When Through May 12
Tickets $18-49
Review by Paige Cooperstein 

The old-timers used to call the Kennedys “lace curtain,” says Mike Dillon in Good People, David Lindsay-Abaire’s latest play.

It means they had money and turned their backs on the neighborhood kids of Boston, which is exactly what Mike’s high school friend Margie thinks he’s done. Mike is a Southie doctor — “That’s gotta be a first!” a South Boston High alumna says — while Margie just got fired from her job as a dollar store cashier where she made just over $9 an hour.

This talk about money and, more importantly, class drives Good People; the conflict between the haves and the have-nots plays out repeatedly in the two-and-a-half hour show. David Andrew Macdonald and Kate Hodge as Mike and Margie adequately bandy about the terms we use to talk about money:

Margie: Mikey Dillon, you’re rich!

Mike: We’re not rich.

Margie: What, would you call it wealthy?

Mike: We’re … comfortable.

Margie: Comfortable, wow. I guess that makes me … uncomfortable.

Judging by how adeptly Macdonald squirms out of his skin — delivering lines in a Mid-Atlantic accent while Hodge’s Margie spits out “Pawdon my French,” every time she spills out creative cusses like “cunty,” — it becomes obvious that there are two types of shame associated with money. Those who have it are ashamed to talk about it, and those who don’t are ashamed to measure their lives against it. Despite the word play that Lindsay-Abaire has so meticulously crafted to smash open the conflict between the classes, it’s the Southie women who steal the show.

When the men come into play, the show moves along well enough, but when you’re watching the women onstage — neighborhood buddies Margie, Jean and Dottie — it’s like you popped into your mom’s fun friend’s kitchen. Elizabeth Rich breathes brassy life into Jean, tossing out dirty jokes as easily as the tears of a supportive friend. Rich easily delivers the most believable crying in the show. As Dottie, Denny Dillon masterfully wields her body language to punctuate her raspy griping. The highlight of the first act is watching these three women rib each other over coffee and bingo.

My qualms with Good People came largely from an unnatural turn in the second act, which leaves Margie the punch line of a Maury Povich joke that was just a silly notion in the first act. Normally, the structure of a play doesn’t come under fire, especially one already workshopped to a polished product. But Good People, which debuted in 2011 and is currently the most frequently produced play in America, still finds itself in its salad days. It will have plenty more performances to finesse the pregnant second act into a poignant performance.

Mike (David Andrew Macdonald),  Margie (Kate Hodge) and Kate (Zoey Martinson) discussing the numerous type of cheese before an unknowing Margie.  Photo: Roger Mastroianni

Mike (David Andrew Macdonald), Margie (Kate Hodge) and Kate (Zoey Martinson) discussing the numerous type of cheese before an unknowing Margie.
Photo: Roger Mastroianni

At least Syracuse Stage’s performance is making a case for the greatness of Good People. The audience engaged, openly laughing when Margie play flirts, “Oh you’re rich and single? Well, I’m up to my tits in credit card debt,” and gasping when she yells at Mike’s wife Kate (a smooth Zoey Martinson) “This could’ve been my life!”

And the Stage had a great reveal in the second act when the action moved from South Boston to the Chestnut Hill suburb of the city. The brick flats that ate up most of the stage slipped away like a robe sliding down a set of shoulders. Behind the gritty South Boston set was a hygienic upper middle class living room. There was a lofted landing above the stairs, modern art on the walls, high ceilings and a cool grey-green color palette. Syracuse Stage always presents impeccable scenic design; think the choreographed ladders in Moby Dick and the rolling Astroturf hills in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Good People set designer Mimi Lien and director Laura Kepley continued that tradition of excellence, providing a natural playground for the actors and making it a joy to watch.

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