Review: Good People

Frances McDormand is a mouthy Southie in David Lindsay-Abaire's powerful drama.

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  • Photograph: Joan Marcus

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Photograph: Joan Marcus

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Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

Margaret Walsh can't help herself. Embodied with brute force by Frances McDormand in David Lindsay-Abaire's wrenching Good People—the most substantial new Broadway play since August: Osage County—she seems to say whatever's on her mind. And why shouldn't she? Free speech is just about all she can afford. A high-school dropout with a severely retarded adult daughter, Margie belongs to a barely working class of South Boston from which few people escape. One exception is her former high-school flame, Mike (Donovan), now a successful doctor; but after tracking him down and barging into his office to beg him for a job, she soon starts scoffing at his fancy "lace curtain" Irish ways.

Her needling hits a nerve: Mike likes to brag about his humble beginnings and resents the accusation that he has outgrown his roots. When he invites her to a party at his home, she calls his bluff; and in the complex dramatic dialectic that ensues, Lindsay-Abaire raises tough-minded questions about luck, obligation and the myth of the self-made man. Under Daniel Sullivan's penetrating direction for Manhattan Theatre Club—he has an actor's gift of illuminating how the characters see themselves, instead of how they might look to us—the first-rate cast of six never slides into generality. (It includes Estelle Parsons and Becky Ann Baker as Margie's friends, Patrick Carroll as her former manager and Rene Elise Goldsberry as Mike's younger wife.) And McDormand's uncompromising Margie—even the g in her name is hard—is all the more poignant for her mulish pride, the kind that comes after a fall. In the current economy of scaled-back American dreams, when the role of class is too often dismissed, Good People has a quality rarely seen on Broadway: It seems necessary.

Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (see Broadway). By David Lindsay-Abaire. Dir. Daniel Sullivan. With Frances McDormand, Tate Donovan. 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.

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