Some people are nice, some not so nice; some are good, some are not so good; the permutations are endless. As a friend of mine once told me, “I have a lot of friends I don’t like.”
Margy (with a hard “g”), as written by David Lindsay-Abaire and served up by Frances McDormand, is a person I am not certain I would like; yet being the liberal I am, I want to like her. Margy is a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks, located in South Boston. Most of them she overcame, but there was one that was a whopper and it set her back so far she never caught up again.
When we meet her she is about to lose her umpty-umpth job at a 99-cent store. Stevie (Patrick Carroll) has to fire her because she suffers from chronic late-ness on account her retarded daughter needs supervision and cannot be left alone. When the caretaker du jour shows up late, inevitably Margy is late to work. This set of circumstances leaves Margy with a Terminal Case of Specialness. Not only is she down on her luck, she is equipped with an explanation. The first scene is Margy’s last day on this particular job, and she does not take it well.
Soon thereafter we meet the rest of her world – her friend Jean (Beck Ann Baker) and her landlady Dottie (Estelle Parsons). Both actors are glorious. Jean is Margy’s cheerleader and Dottie is ready at any moment to rain on Margy’s parade. Jean is the one who mentions the reappearance of one of Margy’s old flames Mike (Tate Donovan) and suggests Margy look him up about job opportunities. Margy does, and the play finally takes off.
David Lindsay-Abaire knows how to create characters and how to give them voice. While the first two scenes set up the story it is only when Margy and Mike meet each other again that the sparks start flying. Mike is the knock that set Margy back on her heels, and the road to the conclusion of that story is a dangerous journey.
What makes this play work is McDormand and this extraordinary cast. McDormand pulls the little red wagon of a plot along in spite of the load of bricks Margy is carrying around just in case she spots a vacant window that needs some shattering. The other actors are superb, but it is Margy to whom Lindsay-Abaire has given the Roman Candles. Everyone else is bouncing off her wake. We see who Margy is because of the people in her life.
This is an uneven, albeit fascinating script, aided in no small way by the extraordinary set by John Lee Beatty. The direction is on the monochrome side, but because of McDormand and the rest of the cast we can forgive a lot. Margy’s choices about her lifestyle and care of her daughter lose credibility as facts are revealed that only create more questions. The truth about her relationship with Mike goes back and forth across the line of credulity until we get lost in the story as if it were a game of Three Card Monty. Most of this is realized well after the curtain falls – much like we dissect a family event the next day. While the play is in progress we are too busy soaking it in to think about the details.
Mostly we are locked in step with Margy, who makes decisions that stick and then demands the right of a do-over as is required. She never relents. She never apologizes. She takes life on as if it was a piece of red meat and she was suffering from iron deficiency. And in this case that piece of meat she grabs is Mike’s pound of flesh.
We forgive the lapses in plot because we are watching this play as though it were coming from a mirror. This one gets you in the gut.
"Very fine new play. ... One of the more subtly surprising treats of this theater season."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Superbly acted yet not fully focused drama will hit home - and the heart."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Wonderful new play. ... Poignant, brave and almost subversive."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Director Daniel Sullivan can’t finesse the play’s contrivances."
Jeremy Gerald for Bloomberg
"This well-made play is just a tad too well-made. I couldn't shake off the sense of having seen more of a thesis than a drama."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage
"The pitch perfect cast paints a reality that bristles with edgy truth."
Roma Torre for NY1
"Unassuming but is right on the money."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
"If 'Good People' isn't a hit for Manhattan Theater Club, there is no justice in the land"
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...