A new kind of heroine in 'Good People' at Arena Stage

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Entertainment,Music,Barbara Mackay

There are few plays that speak clearly to issues of economic reality and class in America today and also work as effective dramatic vehicles. David Lindsay-Abaire's "Good People," currently being given an impressive production at Arena Stage, is one of those rare plays.

"Good People" takes place in South Boston, where a financially challenged single mother, Margaret (Johanna Day) has just lost her job at the local Dollar Store. Margaret is a strong person and an optimist despite the fact that she can't pay her rent. Then Margaret hears that her ex-high school boyfriend, Mike (Andrew Long), is living in the area.

Mike has escaped the poverty he and Margaret grew up in. He is a doctor with a successful practice, an elegant home in the suburbs, and a glamorous wife (Francesca Choy-Kee). Margaret, who can't afford to be proud, approaches him to see if he or any of his friends need help, even doing menial tasks.

Lindsay-Abaire does more than outline discrepancies between those who have and those who have not. He examines the issue of how people succeed and why. As Margaret makes clear, success is partially the result of talent, but also partially the result of luck: Mike had a father who urged him to work hard to get out of the projects, a father who looked out for him. Margie had no one to guide her.

Onstage
'Good People'
Where: Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth Street SW
When: Through March 10
Info: Tickets start at $40; 202-488-3300; arenastage.org

Margaret's bad luck continues into the present. She has been fired, for instance, not because she was a bad worker but because the sitter she employed to take care of her daughter often arrived late, so Margie consistently arrived at work late. Typically, Margaret doesn't blame the sitter.

Under the smooth direction of Jackie Maxwell, the entire cast of "Good People" is first-rate. Day brings out the feisty, loud-mouthed nature of Margaret's personality, as well as the understanding, sensitive elements.

Long is strong as Mike, who seems at first to want to help Margaret. But there is a back story to Mike and Margaret's relationship that makes him insecure, unable to be as frank as Margaret is about the past and unable to be truly generous.

Choy-Kee is excellent as Mike's pampered but down-to-earth wife. Margaret's bingo friends are portrayed with realistic down-home humor by Rosemary Knower, Amy McWilliams and Michael Glenn.

To Margaret, "good people" means people who are the salt of the earth, people who help one another. In Margaret particularly, Lindsay-Abaire has created one truly fascinating "good person" and Arena's production is a moving testament to the depth and insight of this unique, socially relevant play.

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