The Real David Lindsay-Abaire
A 21st century master of quirkiness and fantasy goes home for his play Good People.
Writer David Lindsay-Abaire might be best known as winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for his play Rabbit Hole. A drama about a family coping with the death of their child, Rabbit Hole was produced here at The Public in 2008 and was made into a movie starring Nicole Kidman. The father of two children, Lindsay-Abaire has said he tackled the devastating subject because one of his professors at Juilliard, the playwright Marsha Norman, pushed him to write about what terrified him most. But the bulk of Lindsay-Abaire's work was probably influenced by another of his Juilliard teachers - Christopher Durang.
Lindsay-Abaire had his first hit in 1999 with the play Fuddy Meers, which is part comic farce and part dark parody. This absurdist romp was quickly followed by the equally loopy Wonder of the World, about which Ben Brantley in The New York Times said: "Finding the acid in sugar and spice is Mr. Lindsay-Abaire's specialty." In 2003 Brantley called Lindsay-Abaire's next play, Kimberly Akimbo, the comedy of the year.
A story of a girl with a disease that accelerates her aging process, it was described as both hilarious and haunting.
Lindsay-Abaire's wildly imaginative writing style brought a slew of Hollywood and Broadway offers, mainly for fun and fanciful projects. He has screenplay credits for the computer-generated movie Robots and the fantasy film Inkheart starring Brendan Fraser, and wrote book and lyrics for the big-budget stage blockbuster, Shrek the Musical.
When Lindsay-Abaire sat down to write his next wholly original play, however, he ended up taking a much different direction - the road home.
Born in 1969, David Abaire (the hyphenated name came later when he married Christine Lindsay) was raised in the blue-collar Irish-Catholic South Boston neighborhood. His mom, Sally, worked in a factory and never missed a weekly bingo game. His dad, Bugsy, sold fruit out of a truck.
Young David would probably have grown up with the tough insular attitude that has made Southie notorious in movies such as Good Will Hunting and The Departed, except he was an incredibly bright kid. Recognizing his exceptional promise, the ladies who ran the local Boys and Girls Club helped him get a scholarship to the elite and affluent Milton Academy. At age 11, Lindsay-Abaire left Southie and kept on going: first Milton, then Sarah Lawrence College, then Juilliard. He now lives in Brooklyn, New York.
This history of a foot in two worlds gave him the unique prospective to write his play Good People, which opened on Broadway in 2011. Authentic, funny, moving and insightful, it tells the story of Margaret, a single mother who can't catch a break, and Mike, a guy who made it out of the old neighborhood to find wealth and success as a doctor. When the two meet again after many years, their cultures clash with both comic and devastating results.
Examining the conflict between the rich and the poor in 21st century America is one way to sum up Good People, but Lindsay-Abaire has such affection for his characters that the play always feels like a story about real human beings rather than just an exploration of class.
While this return to Southie has earned him critical acclaim, a Tony nomination, and new audiences across the country, it was probably just a visit. In 2013 we'll find Lindsay-Abaire back on the big screen as a writer of some high-profile movies: the animated Rise of the Guardians; Disney's big Oz the Great and Powerful (the prequel to The Wizard of Oz) starring James Franco and Michelle Williams as Glinda; and even a remake of Poltergeist. Whether realistic or make-believe, a story by Lindsay-Abaire always promises to be surprising.
Just Kidding: The wicked funny culture of South Boston
At last year's Tony Awards ceremony, writer David Lindsay-Abaire must have been a little perturbed to see Good People, his brilliant illumination of the gap between rich and poor in contemporary America, lose Best Play to a British drama about a horse.
What would he do in the face of this disappointment?
He probably smiled and, like his characters in Good People, cracked a joke. Not because he didn't care, but because he grew up in a culture that always found refuge in dark humor.
Good People is a comic valentine to the Irish-Catholic working-class of South Boston, and the character of Margaret is its sweetheart. As the single mother of a mentally challenged adult daughter, her life is difficult. If Margaret didn't wield a sharp wit, she wouldn't survive.
Margaret can channel the Irish gift of gab, but her stories aren't happy tales about pots of gold and rainbows. Instead, she merrily recounts her harrowing experiences and those of her neighbors. Her punch lines can really pack a punch.
While Margaret's friend Jean, who is called "Mouthie from Southie," is funny in a direct, take no prisoners way, Margaret's style is more passive-aggressive. She is a pro at hurling sarcastic zingers at people but then adding "I'm just playin' with you," or "pardon my French," to soften the blow. "Just kidding" is one of her favorite sayings.
For instance in Act 2, Margaret is at the lavish home of Mike, a high school boyfriend she hasn't seen in years. Mike's wife, Kate, is trying to make conversation. "I teach at BU," she says. "Harvard wasn't interested?" Margaret replies. "What?" Kate says and Margaret answers: "I'm just kidding. That's great."
Using "wicked" as an adverb originated in Boston. Good People is a wicked funny play in both senses of the word.