Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
Tag Archives: Jeff Maynard
Long ago, my sociology professor made much of the fact that there were not specific social classes in the United States: that, like the Horatio Alger model, everyone had the ability to rise. This has become more and more debatable in the last half-century, as social forces clamp some into specific spaces in our national culture , not all of which are related to race.
In illustration, find the McCoy Rigby Entertainment production of “Good People,” David Lindsay-Abaire’s examination of class and culture in Boston, now at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. Lindsay-Abaire, whose powerful examination of the nature and collateral damage of grief, “Rabbit Hole,” was a signature piece of last year’s MRE season, looks at the issue through the lens of a “Southie” – someone from traditionally blue collar, Irish, South Boston.
Margaret is a middle aged Southie at the end of her rope. Having just lost her most recent job, in part due to her struggles to care for her disabled adult daughter, she’s desperate for work. Her lifelong friend bumps into an old classmate, briefly Margaret’s love interest, who escaped the life of South Boston for a career as a doctor. Margaret decides to push him to lift her up, at least as far as giving her a job.
Has he become a “lace curtain Southie,” thinking he’s better than everyone else? Is her anger toward him justified? Is the lifestyle he now lives the dream Margaret thinks it is, or does class create struggle even there? What, in the end, are these characters’ actual truths, as the two possible endings for a Southie kid come face to face.
Katie MacNichol creates a distinctly edgy, biting quality to the desperate Margaret: quick to assume, aggressively judgemental and painfully honest, yet gifted by a sense of community on her home turf. As her buddy Jean, Gigi Bermingham offers up the same cynically humorous view of their individual desperations, while Anne Gee Byrd makes Margaret’s upstairs landlady obstinately practical, but caring in her own distant way.
As Mike, the doctor, Martin Kildare gives subtlety to the divide of sensitivities inside a successful man with Southie roots. Sophina Brown, as his wife, offers the third element: a woman raised with greater sophistication, whose struggles to connect her husband’s present image with his past may loom as large as Margaret’s.
Though not touted as a comedy, “Good People” has many laughs in the midst of these tensions. The title of this play comes from the phrase, “He (or she) is good people” – an important valuation in South Boston.The rest of the play is, in the end, an examination of what it means to be, or not be, good people – a goodness which resides in there somewhere, apparently particularly among people in extremity.
Though not as compelling as “Rabbit Hole,” as a play, the performances make the thing worth watching, as does director Jeff Maynard’s handling of this episodic tale. He smooths the transitions from place to place, and makes great use of Stephen Gifford’s representational set pieces. Adriana Lambarri’s costumes create instant class separations, and underscore the central themes of the piece.
For us west-coasters, who may have only heard of Southies in relation to the more local arrest of Whitey Bulger, it’s a look at a part of the country where the turf wars are more distinct, and more ingrained in social history. It’s also a good examination of why, at least in certain parts of the country, my sociology professor was probably wrong.
What: “Good People” When: Through October 12, 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays Where: La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd. in La Mirada How Much: $20-$70 Info: (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310 or http://www.lamiradatheatre.com
Considered the most famous living playwright in America, Neil Simon’s reputation was already assured when he began his semi-autobiographical trilogy in the early 1980s. Though it had been there before, this trilogy significantly changed public perception about Simon. His wry and self-deprecating humor was also acknowledged for depth – for using that humor to touch on the most sensitive aspects of people’s imperfect lives.
The last of the three, “Broadway Bound,” now in a polished revival by the McCoy Rigby series at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, provides a fine illustration of this aspect of Simon’s work. The play touches heavily on aging, loss and the aches left behind when ambition, inflexibility, dysfunction and simply the passage of time disrupt the traditional family. Yet, all is done with a humor which often offers laughs as antidote to moments which would otherwise be tragic.
At La Mirada, a solid, comic, articulate cast directed with precision and intelligence keeps the story humming along, allowing the humor and potential tragedy to mix in ways which charm as they teach. The play is a series of portraits, and under the carefully choreographed direction of Jeff Maynard, an exemplary cast pretty much takes that task to heart.
The story holds echos of Simon’s own beginnings as a writer. Eugene, the narrator, lives at home but aspires to become a comic writer. His older brother and co-writer Stanley lands them their first gig. They face the dual struggles of coming up with material and living in a home full of people seemingly devoid of humor. And, just as they push for a success which will allow them to move out of the home they grew up in and into independence, their family is fracturing beneath them.
Ian Alda is Eugene, the burgeoning young writer, and the voice of Simon’s own wit. As such he must balance that element of observational humor with the immediacy of his character’s involvement in the storyline – a feat he manages with an almost casual seamlessness. As Stanley, Brett Ryback provides the almost frenzied ambition and creative anxiety against which Eugene’s own creativity blends or bumps. He must always vibrate with urgency, and Ryback makes that both believable and highly entertaining. Cate Cohen does what she can with her brief appearance as the comparatively two-dimensional aunt, whose second marriage to a wealthy man has left her happy, but a political anathema to her own father.
Yet, in truth, what makes this production are the character parts. Allan Miller’s grumpy socialist grandfather proves very funny, yet also unforgettable – a man achingly resolute, with an undercurrent of warmth which leaves him yearning for an affection he cannot bear to accept. Gina Hecht, as the dulled, long-suffering mother proves a wonder, particularly as she balances the tones of her current routine with the airy look back at her younger self. John Mariano’s version of the philandering father – part battle-weary trudger and part desperately wise – brings to him a sympathy not always readily present in productions of this play.
Bruce Goodrich’s set allows the entire house to be present at all times, bringing a seamless quality to this somewhat episodic story. Ann Closs-Farley’s costuming places the characters securely in their 1949 setting. Indeed, all the details blend into a must enjoyable whole.
So, go, but do not expect the tidy comedies of Simon’s early years. “Broadway Bound”, like it’s two brothers, “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and “Biloxi Blues” tell a very genuine tale of family, coming of age, comings apart, and foundations. That Simon makes you laugh as he tells it keeps the grimness at bay at times, but also underscores a certain survival skill which allows the Eugenes of this world to move up and out from difficult beginnings. Most importantly, in this production especially, you simply like all the people, even when they don’t particularly like each other. That is another aspect of classic, important Neil Simon repertoire.
What: “Broadway Bound” When: Through October 13, 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays Where: La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd. in La Mirada How Much: $20 – $70 Info: (562) 944-9801, (714) 994-6310 or http://www.lamiradatheatre.com