Thursday, November 26, 2015


By Toby Zinman



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

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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