Last night I was the guest of a friend at the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Good People. The play is set in Boston and centers on the neighborhood I’ve lived in for more than a few years: South Boston. I absolutely loved the play and heartily endorse it. Here are three reasons why.
1. The women!
The show’s protagonist is a Southie woman (named Margaret, natch). Supremely portrayed by Johanna Day, I could not take my eyes off her when she was on stage. Three of the five supporting characters were also women, finely characterized and sympathetic if not universally likable. Simply put, I cared about the women in the play.
[Anyone who has worked in any type of theater knows that there are always more female actresses than there are good roles for them, since literature and history on which much of our drama – both sung and spoken – is based was male-dominated for millenia. I’m always amazed when modern playwrights (and especially composers) write yet another piece dominated by men. Writing a show with a large cast of females is an easy way to guarantee your show will be performed (Steel Magnolias, anyone?)]
2. The language!!
The level of vulgarity might have been shocking to some in the audience, but it seemed pretty standard to me after years of living in a place where people have no qualms about shouting expletives off the car window (and yet hold doors for people without fail. Go figure). Layered on top of the root of the drama, which is universal, was a language and vocabulary I recognized.
I wondered throughout: if someone who didn’t take the same delight in recognition at mention of the clinic, the boys and girls club, Sullivan’s, Gillette, and the dollar store were watching this, would they enjoy it as much as I did? Judging by audience reaction, you didn’t need to know there are two dollar stores next to each other on West Broadway to enjoy the show.
The accents were pretty good, though I may not be a perfect judge since I don’t have one myself. I rarely found their attempts distracting, and there were some moments that were spot on. Someone must have hammered home that they should pronounce “can’t” like Kant, because all night there was no variation to that word.
3. The class warfare!!!
“I hate people who are born with a silver spoon in their mouth and think they hit a triple!” I announced to my friend on the car ride home, realizing somewhere in the middle of that sentence that my metaphors were hopelessly mixed. The sentiment remains, and may have been one of the reasons this show resonated with me.
There were few silver spoons to be found among the characters, but a key conflict involved how much of our lot in life depends on luck and how much we can take credit for. When Margaret tries to convince her childhood friend who “got out” of Southie that he had some lucky breaks, he doesn’t believe her, though it’s painfully obvious to anyone in the audience that simply being incapable of getting knocked up in high school is in its way a lucky break.
I offer these reflections posing as an insider, because having only lived in the neighborhood for a decade I am still an outsider, and will be one even if I live the rest of my life there. I’m fine with that. Like all the play’s characters, I have my history and my home. When the actress playing Margaret came on stage for her curtain call I shouted “Brava!” from the seats in the back to which we’d snuck so we could take off our shoes.
Do you shout “Brava!” at a straight play? I thought. You don’t shout it in Southie, you don’t shout it in my hometown. It’s a language the people I grew up with might not recognize. But it’s the language I’ve layered on top of my native tongue, the hybrid language that makes me – like everyone – never entirely comfortable. It seemed an appropriate place to find myself, at the end of a show about place, time, and home: somewhere in between, where most of us end up living.