Press-Republican

November 15, 2012

Play pays tribute to Southie folks

By STEVEN HOWELL
Press-Republican

---- — MONTREAL — A few good Boston folks are getting together by way of Montreal.

The Centaur Theatre’s “Good People” by Pulitzer-prizewinner David Lindsey-Abaire, that is. The play ventures to Southie, the hard-working Boston Irish neighborhood where resident Margie (pronounced “Mar-ghee”) struggles to care for her adult disabled daughter. When she loses her job at the dollar store, Margie visits an old flame, now a successful doctor, who has moved up the ladder to the more affluent Chestnut Hill part of town.

Actress Johanna Nutter is thrilled about landing the plum lead role.

“I see the play as David Lindsey-Abaire’s love letter to his home,” Nutter said. “It’s a tribute and a send-up to all the wonderful people of South Boston.”

To prepare for the work, Nutter and Centaur artistic director Roy Surette ventured on a Southie road trip this past summer.

“I’m glad I went there to understand the magnitude of what it means to be from Southie,” she said. “It really is a special place.”

Before the trip, Nutter said she didn’t even know about the play. In fact, Nutter didn’t even audition for the play. Nutter said Surette saw the play during its New York run where it won actress Francis McDormand a Tony Award for the role of Margie. Surette, who had worked with Nutter in the past, immediately felt she would be perfect for the part. Nutter soon received a copy of the script.

“I went home, read it and was blown away,” she said. “I immediately felt that Margie and I were sort of one.”

Nutter cited similar life experiences to her on-stage character.

“I grew up in a similar situation,” she said. “It’s the instrument that you are in this world. It’s just a really good fit.”

Nutter said it’s not every day you get a play that’s contemporary.

“And that means the people there are accessible.” She said. “It’s just a bus ride away.”

Nutter said it wasn’t her first trip to the area — she actually lived in Jamaica Plain when she was 9 years old.

“A long time ago,” she quipped. “My mother was a radical hippie and I grew up living inside an ice cream truck traveling up and down the Eastern Seaboard.”

While in the Boston area as a youngster, Nutter attended an alternative school called Hollow Reed.

“It’s where they taught girls to box and boys to sew,” she said.

Nutter said she spent only about half a year in the area at the time and appreciated the chance to return.

As for Southie, “I don’t really know if there’s another place on the planet like it,” she said.

Nutter said she felt a great deal of nostalgia for the area during the trip.

“More in the sense of a Southie that’s going the way of the past,” she said. “It’s really gentrified now. A lot of people are moving away. It’s not the same place it once was.”

Nutter said that no matter what era of Southie is considered, the play is nonetheless timely.

“Especially today, my goodness, it’s a play about the division, the widening rift between the haves and the have-nots,” she said. “It’s a play about luck versus choices.”

The argument follows Margie and her high-school sweetheart.

“He made it out,” she said of Margie’s ex, who is now a prominent doctor.

“But all of the arguments these two have with each other seem to be the same thing that played out in the recent presidential election.”

Nutter said the work offers these arguments in a lighthearted but serious manner.

“It’s a little bit of everything,” she said. “There are moments that are really intense, and then sometimes we’re just surprised to see how many laughs there are. David (the playwright) understands the humor in tragedy.”

Nutter said the dry wit of those memorable Southie residents is evident throughout the play. As for bringing that wit to the Centaur stage, Nutter said she “feels like the luckiest actress in the world right now.”

Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.

IF YOU GO WHAT: "Good People." WHEN: Through Dec. 9. Most performances are at 8 p.m., but some Wednesday and Sunday performances are at 1, 2 and 7 p.m. Check with box office for show times. WHERE: The Centaur Theatre is at 453 St. Francois Xavier St. in Old Montreal. ADMISSION: Adult tickets cost $47.50. Discounts are available for seniors, those 30 and younger, students and matinees. CONTACT: Call the box office at (514) 288-3161 or visit www.centaurtheatre.com.