The new show at the Unicorn, "Good People", is a slice-of-life story about the class struggle in Boston. I know, there has been a lot of talk about in the media and the arts recently about lower class vs. middle class (including shows produced this season at the Unicorn). You may be tempted to skip this play. But that would be a mistake. Nominated for the 2011 Tony Award for Best Play, this is a slice of life that needs to be seen and appreciated.
Set in South Boston, the play opens with Margaret (magnificently played by Jan Rogge), a tired, over-committed woman used to living near the poverty line. She is in the process of being fired from her job at the Dollar Store by her much younger manager, Stevie. In this community (the residents all call themselves "Southies"), everyone knows everyone; Stevie is also the son of Margaret's friend. This causes an extra bit of awkwardness in their relationship.
After commiserating with her two friends Dottie and Jean, Margaret learns that her high school sweetheart, Mike, has returned to Boston as a doctor. Margaret decides to visit Mike to see if he has a job for her. But Mike's financial success causes friction between the two, which brings up long-simmering resentments and confusions. These confusions are both personal and class-based. As the show continues, the characters each take different sides on issues that make you question your own assumptions.
This is one of the stronger ensemble casts I've seen this season at the Unicorn. Scott Cordes plays Mike; he is able to portray legitimate pride in his life mixed with sincere concern that he may have become one of the "lace curtain" Bostonians that the Southies resent for acting like they are better than others. Dianne Yvette plays Mike's wife Kate, the upper class woman that still retains empathy for people in other circumstances. Margaret's two friends are played by Kathleen Warfel and Manon Halliburton, who exhibit attitude and resilience that are as sharp and tough as a whip. They commanded the scenes they were in.
But special mention must be made of Phillip Russell Newman. Newman is by far the youngest member of the cast, and this is his first time on the Unicorn stage. He is awesome as Stevie, and has a quiet intensity that gives him no trouble holding his own among the strong women that surround him. He is very believable as a young man coming to terms with the fact that he is very likely going to stay a Southie for the rest of his life, and is therefore at least partly responsible for his neighbors.
The script is lively. Conversations between the characters could have been lifted directly from people I know (without the Boston accent). There is a cadence and legitimacy to the dialogue that, when combined with the actors' delivery, makes you forget that it was written ahead of time.
This is an honest, earnest reflection on complicated topics with more than two sides. There is a biting sense of humor that covers real insecurities. The show asks you to consider how much of your future is determined by birth circumstances, and how much by choices you make along the way. "Good People" is a painfully funny look at human situations that anybody can relate to, no matter what neighborhood they live in.

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