Tuesday 2 February 2016

#ReadaPlayaWeek: Good People

Plays, of course, are meant to be seen and not read, but it’s not always possible to see every play. They are not complete on the page, certainly in contemporary theatre where plays can be more collaboratively made than ever before. However, it encourages us (and hopefully others) to read more widely. For the third year, here is our #ReadaPlayaWeek initiative. And, as achieved in 2015, we shall try to choose 26 male playwrights and 26 female playwrights for our play choices.

Week 5: David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People (2011)

‘Some people can be content
Playing bingo and paying rent’
‘Some People’ from Gypsy. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Sung by Imelda Staunton in her remarkable performance as Mama Rose, Sondheim’s lyrics may easily remind you of another part Staunton has played. Meet Margie. In the first scene, she loses her job at the dollar store for turning up late yet again. But she’s late because she can’t rely on her landlady and friend, Dottie, to babysit her disabled daughter on time. And, like Sondheim’s lyrics in Gypsy, Margie (with a hard ‘g’) struggles to pay the rent and plays bingo. Without spoiling the plot (and what a riveting plot it is), she soon realises her ex-boyfriend lives nearby who is now a doctor and so decides to visit him.

What’s so likeable about Good People is that it is plot and character-driven, the themes and issues coming through them unforced. Exploring class, chance, choice, wealth, race, and family, Good People has the ingredients of a great American play. Indeed, there are echoes to Death of a Salesman, but what Lindsay-Abaire does differently is to place a struggling, single, unemployed mum as the central character. Likeable despite her flaws and incredibly funny, the play asks us is Margie ‘good people’ for letting Mike (her ex) go or is she being foolish? Likewise, is Mike obnoxious and has he forgotten his roots in Southie? Did he choose to push himself to do better in life or was it luck from his encouraging and well-off family?

The first two scenes of the play open with stories and anecdotes in mid flow. It not only allows for moments of humour to be conveyed, but also made me think about the importance of stories in America. It is often depicted in American theatre that people grow up perhaps expecting to follow the narrative of the American Dream, with all its promises and rhetoric. In Good People, like so many other plays, it has not been fully realised.

Along with Stephen Adly-Guirgis’ The Motherfucker with the Hat, Good People is, in my opinion (for what it’s worth), one of the best American plays of the 21st century.

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