I was a big fan of a Fox TV series called Malcolm in the Middle, which ran from 2000 to 2006. My favorite performer in it was Jane Kaczmarek, who played the mother, Lois. I remember one early review of her amazing, 'til then unexplored, comic talents calling her "a female Homer Simpson." I do know she was nominated seven times for an Emmy for this role, as well as for three Golden Globes. I also saw her perform the lead female role in John Guare's play House of Blue Leaves, three years ago. So this week I attended the opening night performance of Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire's play, Good People, at Westwood's Geffen Playhouse knowing I would be seeing a favorite actress in a play which had been nominated for a 2011 Tony Award in New York. But I must admit that I was absolutely blown away by her stunning performance as Margie, a "Southie," which is defined as a resident of South Boston. That's the downscale part of the city made somewhat famous by Ben Affleck and Mark Wahlberg in their recent films shot there.
Here we encounter a woman at the end of her rope, losing a clerking job at a dollar store which she desperately needed to keep her and her afflicted daughter out of the street. She seeks out an old high school boy friend from 30 years before who has managed to lift himself out of the 'Southie' neighborhood and become a successful 'reproductive' doctor married to a beautiful younger, woman (Cherise Boothe). Desperation is the key word here... Maggie is at the end of her tether, and will do almost anything to keep afloat. But what I did not expect was the deeply human, wildly funny dialogue of Maggie and her cohorts/girlfriends. It is essentially a wry, poignant look at the reunion between Maggie and Mike (played by Jon Tenney), who share their humble beginnings but whose lives have taken wildly divergent paths. This play is memorable for its affectionate, irreverent and startling gritty depiction of how life in today's America can be difficult for even the hardest-working people with good intentions, the 99% of us all. Randall Arney, the artistic director of the Geffen, has written: "Like all works with universal perspective, he does not suggest that the upper class has it easy; rather he creates an honest portrayal of struggles large and small that cross the class divide."
Jane Kaczmarek is bold and brilliant, brassy and brittle as Maggie. Through her eyes, we the audience -- an affluent Westwood-seated group -- get a glimpse of a world where the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' rarely intersect. The writer has instilled here a powerful work of great heart, unanswered questions, and self-sacrifice (for a retarded child) and self-preservation (anything to survive, no matter how embarrassing.) I saw at the Geffen the writer's earlier play, Rabbit Hole, a searing drama of child loss, but even there he demonstrated his quirky sense of humor and compassion for the human condition. Director Mark Shakman gets the most out of his sterling cast, and I strongly suggest that you call the Geffen box office at (310) 208-5454 and see if you can get a ticket or two to this stunning play before it closes in late April. Jane will knock you out... and her Boston accent is perfect.
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