‘Good People’ defines middle-class struggles in blue-collar town

Penn State Centre Stage’s 2013-2014 season starts with a drama that most middle-class Americans can understand and relate to. People can put themselves in the characters’ shoes and they will have many of their emotions brought out to the surface, including those they didn’t think they possessed. These emotions more often than not will bring about questions, especially those questions about their own lives.

Area residents may find the answers to these life-changing questions after seeing “Good People,” a humor-filled drama depicting middle-class life.

“Good People” is about a single woman trying to make ends meet in a blue-collar town. Single mom Margie Walsh is struggling financially, barely making ends meet in her blue-collar town, Southie, a Boston suburb. Taking on the role of Margie is lead actress Johanna Day, who received a Tony Award nomination for best featured actress in a play for her performance as Claire in “Proof” on Broadway. Margie has just been fired from her job at an economy-goods store and is desperately searching for work, when she decides to look up a high school boyfriend, Mike Dillon, played by R. Ward Duffy. Mike has done well for himself and is now a doctor living in a swanky part of town in a nice house with a beautiful young wife.

“Mike is somebody who is kind of trapped between two worlds, his humble past and his plush present,” Duffy said. “He feels Southie was a black hole he needed to escape from to survive and yet he still has a lot of pride in his humble beginnings. He’s torn, which makes him a lot of fun to play.”

Duffy has appeared off-Broadway at Lincoln Center, New Dramatists and Cherry Lane Theater. He has appeared at regional theaters across the country, and received the Best of the Suncoast best actor award for his performance in “True West” at the Banyan Theater.

Written by David Lindsay-Abaire, “Good People” is fictional but is inspired by the author’s time growing up in South Boston. The play premiered at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York City and was nominated for two 2011 Tony Awards for best play and best leading actress in a play (Frances McDormand). This particular production is being fully produced at Penn State Centre Stage.

Directing the play is Robert W. Schneider, who received an MFA in direction from Penn State and is now on the school’s faculty. He has directed numerous plays for Penn State, including “Six Degrees of Separation,” “Company,” “Babes in Arms,” “A Man of No Importance” and “The Boys Next Door.” Schneider has also worked at the State Theatre, directing “Orson’s Shadow,” “Ten Unknowns,” “Harper Regan” and “The Last Five Years.” On stage, he has appeared in “She Loves Me,” “The History Boys,” “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “The Real Inspector Hound” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

Of all the shows he has been involved with, Schneider feels the cast of “Good People” is second to none.

“This is the best cast I have had the good fortune to work with at Penn State Centre Stage,” he said.

Supporting Day and Duffy on stage will be Amelia Campbell as Margie’s best friend, Jean; Jane Ridley as Dottie; Joy Hooper as Kate; and Kevin Toniazzo-Naughton as Stevie.

“We are hoping that our audience will come away examining their own successes and failures in life and whether those moments were achieved because of luck or because of hard work,” Schneider said. “We think of this story as a three-act play. The audience spends two acts in the theater with us and the third act is the car ride home where they debate what they just saw.”

“Great theater and great plays leave us with great questions,” Duffy said. “The audience will laugh a lot, be scared, gasp at times and probably fall in love with some these characters. But they will be left with some great questions that the story of these Southie people have brought up questions that are very relevant to all of us in this country today.

“Does anyone really ever make it on their own or do we always need help or at least a little luck? Does everyone have the same chance to make it? Has the idea of upward mobility become a myth for most people? What does being ‘good people’ really mean?”