PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With David Lindsay-Abaire

By Kenneth Jones
02 Mar 2011

Renee Elise Goldsberry
photo by Joan Marcus

Class issues are timeless, but did the current economic downturn sort of inform the writing of Good People? It seems very of the moment, your play.
DLA: Well, certainly, yes. No question. If you're going to write about class, what better time than now, it seems?

There's a reference to a local factory in the play — an electronics factory? Gillette?
DLA: Gillette World Headquarters are in South Boston.

Gillette razors?
DLA: Gillette razors, yep. Shaving cream. Every Gillette product is made there. It's a huge factory on the Fort Point channel.



And a great employer of people from Southie?
DLA: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. This isn't in the play, but a friend of mine that I grew up with went to see the play last week, and she said, "Oh, you worked in Southie's Coal Mine." And I said, "What?" She was like, "Gillette! Southie's Coal Mine! That's what we called it." I was like, "Oh, my God, I totally forgot that." So they call it the Coal Mine. I wish I had remembered that; I would have put it into the play.

I had read that your mom worked in an electronics factory.
DLA: Oh, yeah, that was a different factory.

Gillette. These workers are literally on the razor's edge.
DLA: That's it.

I wasn't sure if there was a connection to your mom.
DLA: No, my mom worked in a different factory. This isn't about my mom! You're crazy! It's Gillette! She worked in an electronics factory. [Laughs.]

I love how the idea of luck is so beautifully integrated into the lives of your characters. That they may be a missed-bus away from a greater opportunity, somehow. Are you aware of that in your own life — the randomness of things?
DLA: Yes. Yes, yes, yes, that's the thing that I'm most aware of in my life, in a way that the guy in the play [Mike, who rose out of Southie] is less aware of. In fact, he sort of shuts it out. I just think about so many things in my own life. The main thing is: I got a scholarship from The Boys Club when I was 11 to go to this private school, but this scholarship only came up once every six years, because it was a six-year scholarship. And so, I had to be the right age in the right year that it came up, and so just that randomness… And also, there were, at that time, three club houses in the city, one in Southie, one in Charlestown, one in Roxbury, and each clubhouse submitted two kids. So, I was one of six kids that were submitted for the scholarship, and I happened to be the one to win it. So, that whole thing. I mean, that's the biggest bit of luck. I think, "Gosh, if I wasn't 11 years old in 1980 or whatever it was, then I wouldn't have gone to Milton. What then?"

Gillette?
DLA: I don't know. Probably I'd be managing The Dollar Store.

Without the Boys Club, who would you be?
DLA: Who knows? I don't know. I hope not dead. I hope not in prison. But I look at a bunch of the people that I grew up with, and a lot of them have really terrific jobs and really wonderful families — and a lot of them are, in fact, dead and had drug overdoses and are in jail and all the awful things. And a lot of it is, they just went the wrong way or they didn't have the opportunity — or whatever that little hiccup is, they got the hiccup and I didn't.

 

Estelle Parsons
photo by Joan Marcus

How are you and Mike alike? When somebody puts out a dozen artisanal cheeses at an opening-night party, are you Mike?
DLA: [Laughs.] Making fun of them, you mean? Well, Mike has gotten very good at passing, so he's used to the cheeses, but he still makes fun of them in that way. I've acclimated, but I'll never not be of the neighborhood. He's funny about the neighborhood; he's very different than I am. He romanticizes his past, but also wants to shut it out. I totally embrace the neighborhood and feel like it has made me who I am and totally defines me as a person, as a father, as a writer. It defines me in every way, and so, I own it, and that character, for whatever reason, romanticizes it but doesn't really own it. But he is of two worlds, and that is certainly true of me and has been true of me since I was 11. When I went out to that private school, I was a day student. And so, every day I would get on that train, and I would go to the suburbs and I would hang out with these rich people. I'm sure there were other scholarship kids, though we were less aware of it at the time, but [I hung out with] what felt like cultured and rich people, and then I would go back home and go to Southie. After a couple of years of that, I got a really terrific education, but I was less of the neighborhood — and yet, never really a part of that prep school. I had sort of a foot in both worlds, but never really belonging to either, and I think it put me in a unique position to be a writer, because of course, [I was] the outsider, right? Always the outsider. So, I think Mike and I have that in common.

There's a humanity to your characters, and a complexity. Mike and Margaret are complicated.
DLA: [Mike] has totally tried to recreate himself. He's moved up in class. There is something about marrying a black woman that feels like, "I am not that person that I used to be."

The bumps in his marriage seem directly related to him feeling pulled in several directions, would you say?
DLA: I would. There is an implication, I think, that he's probably had an affair or two —

With women who are not at his wife's level.
DL: Exactly. You are smart, yes. I would think so. If he is having flings with other women, I suspect they are probably not the highly educated, wealthy women that he may encounter in his life. Whether that has to do with the neighborhood…

The title really interests me; it prompts us to ask how people behave and what a good person is. Down deep, all of these people are incredibly good people.
DLA: Oh, thanks. I hope so.

Were there other titles?
DLA: In fact, there was one other title.

Can you share it or no?
DLA: Sure. It was briefly called Uncomfortable. … It doesn't slip fleetingly off the tongue. There is an exchange in the doctor's office when she says, "Mikey — you're rich!" And he says, "I'm not rich." And she's like, "Well, what are you, wealthy?" He says, "I'm comfortable." She says, "Oh, I guess that makes me uncomfortable, then." And so, there's the idea of comfort and being comforted and who's comfortable and who isn't comfortable and putting people in uncomfortable situations. It felt like, "Oh, that seems like a right title." I don't know, I didn't like the sound of it. It was a little too on-the-nose to me.

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Write him at kjones@playbill.com, or follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)