Note: This piece contains spoilers for the play Good People which is currently playing at the Steppenwolf Theater.
Last week I accompanied LPCS Guests to the Veteran Night play at the Steppenwolf Theater. The play was Good People, and it addressed intersecting issues of class and race. The main character was Margie Walsh, who is a middle-aged, single mother from Southie (a poor neighborhood in Boston). Margie had just been fired from her job as a cashier at a local grocery store. She proceeded to look for help from her old boyfriend, Mikey, who has now become a doctor and lives in Chestnut Hill (one of the wealthiest parts of Boston). The first meeting between the two of them is wrought with underlying tension that only continues to build. As the play unfolds, the difference in socio-economic class between Margie and Mike becomes more and more obvious. We find out that Mikey has not kept in touch with anyone from his childhood and that he has not been back since he left for college, although he tries to redeem himself by mentioning that he volunteers at the Boys and Girls Club by acting as a board member. A difference in the way they speak also denotes their differences in class. Margie uses Southie slang where as Mike speaks “properly”.
The scene in the play that struck me the most was when Margie and Mike are arguing back and forth about why Margie has never moved out of their childhood neighborhood, while Mikey has done so well for himself that he is now living in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city. Although they never pinpoint one specific reason why Mikey has done so much better for himself, it does beg the question of if it is really possible to pull yourself up the socio-economic ladder without any outside help. I think it hints at how difficult it really is to successfully work your way into a higher socio-economic class, especially if you are not given a great set of cards to begin with.
While it was fun to hang out with the Guests and see the play, it also forced me look introspectively at these issues. I kept thinking about how the issues that the play was highlighting were very real experiences of many people. It struck me how easily the names of neighborhoods and the cities could be changed to virtually any American city and the issues that the play explored would still be very pertinent. Something else that I kept thinking was how interesting it is that someone would pay money to see a play that discussed very intense and often uncomfortable issues of class and race, issues that are still very relevant to today’s society but that are often pushed under the rug for the sake of convenience. The end of the play offered no solutions but I thought it was a perfect way to end such a play as I feel like we still struggle with what kind of response to have.
By: Dana Furuyama, Volunteer Coordinator