By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
David Lindsay-Abaire’s Broadway hit play, Good People is about class. It is a sociological cliché that the American inclination is always to root for the underdog, which often means, as it does here, the unlucky, the uneducated, the unemployed. “Un” is the fact of life among the Southies, a thickly accented rough and tough neighborhood in Boston.
The plot centers on Margaret (Julie Czarnecki) who, fired by her nice-guy boss (Jered McLenigan) from her job at the Dollar Store, faces eviction from her not-so-nice landlady (Sharon Alexander). Her foul-talking friend Jean, the Mouthie from Southie (Denise Whelan) encourages her to look up an old boyfriend, Mike (Dan Olmstead) who escaped the Southie projects and became a rich physician; he is married to a young, black wife (Danielle Herbert).
We learn that Margaret’s grown daughter (who remains offstage), apparently brain damaged from premature birth, is the burden of her life; the plot will turn on a dangerous possibility that Mike is really her father. True or false? History come home? or an exploitative lie?
The set-up is obvious: class, money, race. Add weekly bingo, just for luck. Lindsay-Abaire insists that we dislike and mistrust Mike: he’s smart and hard-working and successful, which most sensible people would see as admirable, but envy, defensiveness and social paranoia skew the plot’s sympathies toward the Southie. A sample of self-justifying Southie reasoning: “You’re too nice—that’s why you’ve got nothing.”
A crowd-pleasing dramedy, directed by Bernard Havard, Good People is full of easy, unearned laughs; every time the play veers toward serious issues, a snappy retort steers it back on the comic course. The women in the cast mug it up shamelessly, milking every trite situation for laughs—wine tasting, cheese tasting, room decor. Subtlety must be a class thing: is there a more snobbish assumption?
Walnut Street Theatre, 9th & Walnut Sts., through April 28. Tickets $10-85. Information: 215-574-3550 or www.WalnutStreetTheatre.org