What better way could there be of following David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole (La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts’ recent Scenie-winning Production Of The Year) than with the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright’s latest hit? Simply put, Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People makes for an evening of Great Theater.
Meet Margie (the “g” in her name is as hard as her will to survive the mean streets of South Boston), a 50ish single mom who finds herself suddenly jobless after Stevie, the son of a childhood friend and manager of the local Dollar Store where Margie’s been cashiering, fires her from her $9.20 an hour job despite her pleas that he give her an eighth warning instead of a pink slip.
Though Stevie’s own boss would likely see the reason for Margie’s perpetual tardiness—a mentally retarded adult child cared for by a landlady whose frequent sleeping in causes Margie to arrive an hour late—as mere irresponsibility, she herself considers it just one of the unavoidable realities of a bad luck-cursed life.
Unwilling to take Stevie’s suggestion that she apply for line work at the local Gillette factory, Margie is persuaded by her Bingo buddies to pay an office visit on a high school boyfriend, one who luck will have it has escaped from “Southie” to a successful medical practice, marriage to a considerably younger literature professor at Boston University, a five-year-old daughter, and an elegant home in the posh neighborhood of Chestnut Hill.
When Dr. Mike declares himself unable to offer Margie a job (she is, after all, unqualified for any kind of medical office work), his feisty ex-sweetheart wangles an invitation to his upcoming birthday party in hopes that one of the assembled guests might have a line on a possible job.
When a phone call from Mike informing Margie that his daughter’s illness has forced the party to be cancelled seems too convenient to be true, Margie decides to attend anyway.
What she finds when she arrives at Mike’s suburban manse makes for Good People’s edge-of-your-seat second act.
Good People proves a more than worthy follow-up to Lindsay-Abaire’s justly lauded Rabbit Hole, and like his previous dramedy, manages to bring up serious issues while never sacrificing entertainment value or accessibility.
In addition, as an examination of the roles luck and hard work play in an individual’s personal, professional, and monetary success, Good People will have you talking long after its final fadeout.
Take for example Mike’s attitude towards his successes in life, achievements he would likely chalk up to hard work and ambition (and in so doing blame Margaret’s failures on her seeming lack of either). Margie, on the other hand, sees much of Mike’s success as the result of his having happened to have a father who pushed his son to study—and in one life-altering moment, having happened to be looking out the window on a particularly fateful night. Representing the reverse side of the coin is Margie’s life, one in which a single piece of peanut brittle could set off a bad luck spiral leading to a repossessed car and ultimately to this latest in a string of lost jobs.
Director Jeff Maynard brings out the very best in his couldn’t-be-better cast, beginning with Katie MacNichol’s quirky, edgy star turn as Margie, the Best Actress Scenie winner (for her wacky upper-class Londoner in Noël Coward’s Fallen Angels) vanishing inside Margie’s tough, feisty blue-collar skin while letting us glimpse the younger, sweeter eighteen-year-old she once was and might still long to be.
Figuring prominently in Act One (and in Good People’s humdinger of a coda) are Margie’s elderly landlady Dottie (Anne Gee Byrd) and her longtime best friend Jean (Gigi Bermingham), whose frequent bingo nights at the local parish offer the ladies and Stevie (Wyatt Fenner) the chance to dish over the latest gossip and rehash memorable past events.
L.A. theater fans can rejoice in seeing the above trio brought to life by three of our finest and most versatile talents in roles quite unlike any you may have seen them in before. Byrd’s old bird of a Dottie and Bermingham’s tough cookie of a Jean are about as far removed from the sophisticated roles they often play at Antaeus as Margie’s life is from Mike’s, and Fenner’s sweet, sincere Stevie transports the perennial teen into grownup territory, the trio’s hard South Boston vowels (no dialect coach is credited) just one of the reasons their performances will have you cheering.
Martin Kildare’s Mike is as multi-layered as performances get, particularly once the suave MD we first meet starts dropping his “lace curtain” façade and reverting to his Southie speech patterns to reveal the still pugnacious projects-raised bruiser not so far beneath the surface.
Last but not least is Sophina Brown’s exquisite Kate, as smart as she is gorgeous, and a force to be reckoned when provoked by an unexpected visitor and a not-so-perfect husband.
Scenic Designer Extraordinaire Stephen Gifford creates one terrifically detailed setting after another as Good People moves from locale to locale, behind each of which looms the South Boston that has shaped Margie and her friends’ lives.
Adriana Lambarri’s terrific character/class-appropriate costumes are precisely the outfits each would have chosen, whether at the local Salvation Army or in Boston’s trendiest boutiques, with special snaps for a “party dress” that is both well-meaning and fashion-clueless. Tim Swiss lights sets and costumes to perfection. Josh Bessom’s sound design features mood-setting high-adrenaline music between scenes. Hair designer Katie McCoy deserves high marks for each character’s class-appropriate hairdos as does properties designer Terry Hanrahan for her meticulous set decoration.
Julia Flores is casting director. Lisa Palmire is production stage manager, Hanrahan is assistant stage manager, and David Cruise is technical director. Buck Mason is general manager.
While musical theater buffs can rejoice in upcoming, much-anticipated McCoy Rigby Entertainment productions of Billy Elliot, Carrie, Pride And Prejudice, and Mary Poppins, lovers of drama at its Broadway best have equal reason to celebrate Good People’s arrival at La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts.
Not only does Good People provoke considerable thought, it provides two of the most compelling—and entertaining—hours you’re likely to spend in a theater. It’s also a play you may end up wanting to see more than once, the reason for which you will figure out in its final moments.
Plays don’t get much better than Good People, or productions much finer than its current incarnation out La Mirada way.
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Boulevard, La Mirada.
September 20, 2014
Photos: Michael Lamont