As David Lindsay-Abaire defines it in his opus now at Broadway's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, Good People are old flames who strike up a new relationship in these troubled times. The place: Boston, from the scruffy Southie section, to a higher economic strata. The rekindled couple in question: Frances McDormand, abruptly unemployed and eminently evictable, and Tate Donovan, a doctor who seems to have made it out of Southie to a sounder shore.
"In a line," sums up Lindsay-Abaire, "it's about the myth in America that anyone can accomplish anything if they just work hard enough." McDormand is "a working-class woman who has had minimum-wage jobs her entire life and never been able to escape that life. In the course of the play, she finds out that a guy she grew up with who escaped the neighborhood — Tate Donovan — has gone on to become a successful doctor. She insinuates herself into his life in order to escape her circumstance."
"I wouldn't call it a romance," adds Donovan. "It's your past digging into your present."
You might think that Donovan fell through a Rabbit Hole onto Broadway, since he did the Los Angeles edition of Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize–winning play — but the author never made it out to see him, and Daniel Sullivan directed only the Broadway version and had never before hired Donovan. From the evidence at hand, he seems to have won the role the old-fashioned way: on talent. "After the audition, Dan looked up and said to me, 'Well, you know this guy.' I just feel that way. I'm Irish Catholic. My father was a doctor who came from a very poor Brooklyn neighborhood and pulled himself up out of that. It's the same situation.
"We all sorta know it. I personally know it because becoming an actor is tough. Everyone thinks you can't do it. My family was not thrilled I wanted to be an actor. Coming out and making your life and becoming your own person is hard enough — then, when your old life comes back and introduces itself to you, it's uncomfortable. You miss the old days, the old neighborhood. You have this great warmth — but you also have sort of a disgust — for it. You just want to leave all of that behind you."
Which is not to say you can't reinvent yourself along the way. Of late, the actor has taken to directing TV, like "Glee" and "Nip/Tuck." It was while he was acting on "The O.C." that he got the directing bug: "I didn't have much of a role and was bored so I started shadowing the directors, and they gave me a shot, and it went well. If they will let me act and direct for the rest of my life, I will die a happy man."
He even got to direct his own demise in the "Damages" series: "It was a great part — until they killed me. I drowned in a toilet. My mother is still livid about it."
From that, you can only go up. "I cannot wait. Doing a play on Broadway is the actor's dream. The people you work with are at the height of their profession. Also, there's the camaraderie. You just don't get this sense of community anywhere else."