STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
How we end up in life has a lot to do with where we came from. That's theory explored by the play "Good People." Pulitzer-Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire wrote this play. When it was on Broadway a couple of years ago, Variety wrote: If "Good People" isn't a hit, there is no justice. Justice was served. In this theater season, "Good People" is the most produced play in America. By the end of this summer, it will have been on stage in 17 different cities.
NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports on the play set in two Boston neighborhoods, upscale Chestnut Hill and blue-collar Southie.
ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: "In Good People," Margie Walsh and Mikey Dillon grew up together in Southie. They had a summer romance when they were teenagers. Now they're both about 50. They haven't seen each other in decades. She still lives there. He doesn't. He is a doctor now.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "GOOD PEOPLE")
JOHANNA DAY: (as Margie Walsh) Mikey Dillon. You're rich.
ANDREW LONG: (as Mikey Dillon) Take it easy.
DAY: (as Margie Walsh) You are. You're rich.
LONG: (as Mikey Dillon) I'm not rich.
DAY: (as Margie Walsh) What would you call it?
LONG: (as Mikey Dillon) I don't know.
DAY: (as Margie Walsh) Wealthy?
LONG: (as Mikey Dillon) Comfortable.
DAY: (as Margie Walsh) Oh, comfortable.
LONG: (as Mikey Dillon) Yeah.
DAY: (as Margie Walsh) You're comfortable. OK. I guess that makes me uncomfortable.
(as Margie Walsh) Is that what you call us lowly folk, uncomfortable?
LONG: (as Mikey Dillon) Nope.
BLAIR: "Good People" is partly about learning how the other half lives. Margie Walsh is a single mother raising an adult child who's disabled. She just lost her job as a cashier at the Dollar Store making $9.20 an hour. Later, she finds out that Mikey Dillon can afford to pay his babysitter - a teenager - $15 an hour: two people, same background, very different paths.
For playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, "Good People" is a personal story. He grew up in Southie.
DAVID LINDSAY-ABAIRE: My father was a fruit peddler for all of his life. He sold fruit out of the back of the truck. And my mother was a factory worker.
BLAIR: Every day after school, Lindsay-Abaire went to the Boys and Girls Club in Southie. When he was 11, the club got him a scholarship to attend Milton Academy, a private school just outside of Boston.
LINDSAY-ABAIRE: And so, every day, I would get on that train and take the subway out to the suburbs and rub elbows with these mostly wealthy kids, and learn about Shakespeare and Proust. And then I'd get back on the train and go back to Southie every night.
LINDSAY-ABAIRE: And so, I was, from a relatively young age, incredibly aware of class differences and how difficult it can be to escape the class that you grew up in.
BLAIR: But in the play, the people who still live in Southie don't necessarily want to escape. They're struggling but they're not unhappy. During a Bingo game, Margie tells her friends she's going to a party at the now-rich Mike Dillon's house, hoping someone will help her find a job.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "GOOD PEOPLE")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I-22.
DAY: (as Margie Walsh) Maybe somebody at Mike's party will have something.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: That's right. You make an impression. People like you. Who knows, maybe you'll even find a husband there.
DAY: (as Margie Walsh) Oh yeah, that's exactly what's going to happen.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It could. It could.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: N-45. N-45.
DAY: (as Margie Walsh) Right, 'cause what guy can resist a middle-aged lady in an outfit from Goodwill?
BLAIR: Margie Walsh was played by Johanna Day at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. and the Huntington Theater in Boston.
DAY: She's not book smart and didn't get to be educated. But she is smart. She's a really bright woman. And, believe me, she takes in and clocks everything that everybody is saying.
BLAIR: The tension in the play escalates when Margie goes to Mike's house. Since she desperately needs work, his wife offers to let her baby sit their young daughter. Mike is against it. He points out that Margie can't seem to hold down a job because she's always late. Margie says it's not always her fault.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "GOOD PEOPLE")
DAY: (as Margie Walsh) Sometimes it was Joyce. Sometimes it was the...
FRANCESCA CHOY-KEE: (as Kate Dillon) You don't have to explain yourself to him.
DAY: (as Margie Walsh) One time I got my car taken. Why'd I lose the car? Because I missed a payment. Why'd I miss a payment? Because I had to pay for a dentist instead. Why'd I have to pay the dentist?
LONG: (as Mikey Dillon) We don't need the sob story.
DAY: (as Margie Walsh) No, I've done this a hundred times in my head, Mikey, and I think you should hear it too.
BLAIR: "Good People" is by no means a preachy play. In fact, there are moments when you feel plenty sorry for Mike Dillon for the verbal beating he's getting from Margie Walsh. Mike has genuinely worked hard to get to where he is in life. But Margie points out that Mike had something she - and most of the other kids in Southie didn't: A father who worked and watched out for him.
David Lindsay-Abaire says he wanted to explore the question: when you make it, was it luck or hard work, or a combination of the two.
LINDSAY-ABAIRE: The doctor character feels totally entitled to his life and feels like it was never going to go any other way, because he worked hard and pulled himself up by the bootstraps. And if you don't do that, that's why you get stuck where you are. And in a very accusatory way, he throws that at Margie who makes the argument that, no, sometimes you're actually born into circumstances where it's very difficult to get out. And if you don't have the lucky breaks or can't recognize what an opportunity is, then I might not end up where you are out in this fancy house in the suburbs.
BLAIR: When "Good People" played at the Huntington Theater in Boston, many of David Lindsay-Abaire's old friends from Southie showed up, as did some of the friends he made when he left. He says it was a very poignant intersection of his two lives.
LINDSAY-ABAIRE: The Huntington happens to be across the street from the very corner where my father sold fruit, out of the back of the truck. And so, I would sit with my dad in the back of that truck over the summer and sell plums and peaches to these kids from B.U. And I would look across the street and say what's over there? Oh, they're doing something called the "Piano Lesson" by August Wilson,' and it felt impenetrable to me as a person that there was a real - I mean this very solid blocky building and I was the poor kid selling fruit on the street with my dad.
And so, for many years later to be at that theater and to have my play done in that theater, thinking: Oh, my Lord, I sat across and looked at this theater. It felt very strange. It felt gratifying, of course, but it also felt: God how did I get inside this building and why am I sitting in these plush seats. And how can I get those people selling fruit on the corner in here?
BLAIR: David Lindsay-Abaire knows that would be very hard for someone like Margie Walsh.
"Good People" will be in several theaters around the country in the coming months, including Cleveland, Phoenix and Miami.
Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
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