Review: Oceanside Theatre Co. balances humor and darkness in well-staged ‘Good People’

A man and a woman have an argument in a stage play.
Ted Leib as Mike and Susan Clausen as Margie in Oceanside Theatre Company’s “Good People.”
(Courtesy of Ken Jacques)

The play by David Lindsay-Abaire is about who wins and who loses in the economic game of life


One of the favorites to win this year’s Tony Award for Best Musical is “Kimberly Akimbo,” a quirky and heartwarming Broadway musical with a script by David Lindsay-Abaire, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright with a gift for crafting complex and realistic American characters who are struggling to succeed and survive in an often-unforgiving world.

His Tony-nominated 2011 play “Good People” — which made its West Coast premiere at the Old Globe in 2012 — is just such a story. Despite its upbeat name, “Good People” is about a group of South Boston (“Southie”) natives who aren’t necessarily good or bad. They’re people with good in them, but also flaws, secrets and shameful backstories that rise to the surface when times get tough.

Oceanside Theatre Company opened a new production of “Good People” Saturday at the Brooks Theater in Oceanside. Sandy Campbell makes an impressive directing debut with this tautly paced production, balancing the play’s humor and darkness with well-crafted character performances.

The play arrives in San Diego when homelessness is rising, inflation has spiked and housing affordability is at a near record low. In times like these, even good people can end up in desperate straits when things go bad.

Four people playing bingo in a stage play.
Susan Clausen (left), Sherri Allen, Heidi Bridges and Dennis Peters in Oceanside Theatre Company’s “Good People.”
(Courtesy of Ken Jacques)

That’s what happens to Margie, a rough-around-the-edges single mom who cares for her mentally disabled adult daughter. When she’s let go from her dollar store job for chronic tardiness due to her daughter’s needs, Margie tracks down her high school boyfriend, Mike, who she hasn’t seen in 30 years. Mike made it out of their blue-collar neighborhood, worked his way through medical school and now lives what Margie resentfully calls a “lace curtain” lifestyle in an affluent Boston suburb with his family. Margie begs him for a job as a receptionist.

But Mike isn’t feeling nostalgic. He’d rather forget his rough-and-tumble youth and the unpolished Margie — who knows too many of his youthful indiscretions — is a needling reminder of the life he left behind long ago without regrets. Soon words and accusations fly and the good and bad in both characters comes to the surface.

Susan Clausen gives a fiercely authentic performance as Margie, who is tough, manipulative, occasionally cruel and unwilling to accept responsibility for the bad choices she has made. But she’s also self-sacrificing, maternal, forgiving and kind. Equally strong is Ted Leib as Mike, who starts out friendly, if disinterested in Margie’s visit, and then ramps up to icy and cutting as Margie refuses to take no for an answer and begins spilling some of his well-kept secrets.

Sherri Allen, as Jean, and Heidi Bridges, as Dottie, are endearing and funny as Margie’s friends and fellow bingo enthusiasts. Amira Temple is cool, wily and protective as Mike’s unhappy wife, Kate. And Dennis Peters is earnest and quiet as Stevie, the dollar store manager forced to fire Margie at the start of the play.

Julie Lorenz designed the scenery, Mashun Tucker designed lighting, Marcene Drysdale designed costumes and Ted Leib designed sound. Vanessa Dinning served as dialect coach.

The play ends at a bingo parlor, which is an apt metaphor for the play. The randomness of chance has an obvious role in the trajectory of Margie and Mike’s lives, but unfortunately Margie never wins — at bingo or anything else in the game of life.

‘Good People’

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through May 28

Where: Oceanside Theatre Company at the Brooks Theater, 217 N. Coast Highway, Oceanside

Tickets: $35

Phone: (760) 433-8900