In Good People, playing at L.A.’s Geffen Playhouse through May 13, Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle) nails the blue-collar accent, the dramatic (and comedic) timing, and the rode-hard-put-away-wet look of her South Boston character, Margie. But what’s most stunning about her embodiment of a virtually unemployable 40-something high school dropout with a disabled daughter is her physicality on stage. There’s something about the way Kaczmarek walks — stiff and with a slight limp — that lets you know Margie has never had it easy. Kaczmarek wears a five-seasons-old coat with slumped shoulders and wraps it tight around herself with crossed arms, suggesting that she’s in a constant state of defensiveness. And when she visits a mansion in a well-heeled part of Boston, it’s hard not to zero in on Kaczmarek’s hands (especialy compared to those of her graceful host). Oozing discomfort, she simply doesn’t know what to do with them.
Discomfort is a recurring element of playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People, which premiered on Broadway last season and won the 2011 New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play of the Year. Here, however, discomfort is a good thing. It creates a charged atmosphere that enables the ever-struggling, ever-persistent Margie to survive. As the play begins, Margie loses her job at a dollar store after showing up late one too many times because of issues with her disabled (offstage) daughter. At the behest of her longtime friend Jean (Sara Botsford), she reaches out to a former high school flame, Mike (Jon Tenney), who managed to escape their tough Boston neighborhood and become a doctor. Margie asks him for a job, asks him if she can come to his birthday party, and asks him if any of his fancy friends might know of a job for her. Her quest leads her first to his office, then to his home.
The play delves into issues of race, pride, and appreciating one’s origins. Ultimately, though, the recurring theme is the divide between luck and choice: Which is the real reason that kept Margie in hardscrabble South Boston, and which truly enabled Mike to get out and make a better, more financially secure life for himself?
Although Kaczmarek is the shining star of the show, she isn’t the only standout in the L.A. production of Good People. The sets, by designer Craig Siebels, are stunning, changing from a back alley to a kitchen to a church hall to a suburban mansion. And Marylouise Burke is an inveterate scene stealer as Dottie, Margie’s landlord and bingo buddy. A
(Tickets: geffenplayhouse.com or 310-208-2028)