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Characters shine in Pittsburgh Public Theater's 'Good People'

| Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
Helen Coxe and Kelly McAndrew in Pittsburgh Public Theater's 'Good People.' Credit: Pittsburgh Public Theater

REVIEW

Do we choose our fate, or does fate choose for us?

It's a question that often comes to mind when reconnecting with people from our past: Mr. Most Likely to Succeed is now the assistant manager at a Hardee's, while the class party animal is arguing cases before the Supreme Court.

Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire explores this question and other interesting puzzlers in “Good People,” a serious, but disarmingly funny, drama produced by the Pittsburgh Public Theater.

The story focuses around Margie and Michael, two former high-school friends who grew up in a terrible section of Boston and briefly had a more intimate relationship.

Michael escaped to college, and has become a prosperous physician with a big house and a beautiful wife and daughter.

Margie is still stuck in the old neighborhood, hanging out with her high-school friend Jean, raising her now- adult but mentally deficient daughter and trying to scrape by.

We first meet Margie in the alley behind the Dollar Store, where she's about to be fired from the most recent of her minimum-wage jobs.

Definitely “a mouthy from Southie,” Kelly McAndrew's Margie is as likeable as she is hapless. She's a resilient survivor, with a quick tongue and a quicker wit who has learned to live with a less-than-perfect life.

Margie and Michael re-meet — it's definitely not a reunion — when Jean convinces Margie to contact Michael, as part of her efforts to find a job before she's kicked out of her apartment.

Actor David Whalen clearly telegraphs Michael's ambivalence and discomfort from the moment Margie enters his office. He's not happy to have his re-invented self-image disrupted by this visitor from his past. But he also finds some pleasure in the self-affirmation of how far he has come.

For reasons that have more to do with advancing drama than maintaining reality, Margie pushes Michael into inviting her to a party at his house.

What unfolds there allows the playwright and his characters — including Michael's wife, Kate — to examine issues such as: what we owe to the people of our past, the definition of the phrase “good people” and how to know whether or how much chance or initiative determines the outcome of our lives.

As Kate, January LaVoy brings grace and assertiveness to her role as she mediates and takes a middle path between Michael and Margie's points of view.

Whalen's Michael turns out to be something of a quick-tempered jerk, which skews the proceedings more than the playwright might have intended.

Guest director Tracy Brigden, known to many as the artistic director at City Theatre, moves the action along with dispatch.

So does Jeff Cowie's scenic design, which solves the problems of multiple locations with platforms that slide off and on.

Lindsay-Abaire has filled his play with smart, strong women.

Your favorite moments will most likely be spent with Margie and her Bingo-playing pals: Glynis Bell's ditzy landlady Dottie, Helen Coxe's outspoken Jean and Paul Terzenbach's Stevie, the Dollar Store manager who fires Margie in the opening scene.

They're funny, yet real, and likely to be completely recognizable to anyone else who has an old neighborhood in their past.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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