Stage Struck Review

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“Good People” in La Mirada – 21st Century Class Consciousness

Katie MacNichol, Sophina Brown and Martin Kildare in "Good People" in La Mirada [photo: Michael Lamont]

Katie MacNichol, Sophina Brown and Martin Kildare in “Good People” in La Mirada [photo: Michael Lamont]

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.

Margaret with her own: MacNichol with Anne Gee Byrd (l.) and Gigi Bermingham (r.) [Photo: Michael Lamont]

Margaret with her own: MacNichol with Anne Gee Byrd (l.) and Gigi Bermingham (r.) [Photo: Michael Lamont]

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

The Art of Comedy: The sheer delight of “Fallen Angels” at the Pasadena Playhouse

Pamela J. Gray and Katie MacNichol create the delight in "Fallen Angels" at the Pasadena Playhouse

Pamela J. Gray and Katie MacNichol create the delight in “Fallen Angels” at the Pasadena Playhouse

We all need a good laugh. Indeed, who among us does not appreciate performers with expert comic timing. Anyone who has ever told a joke knows how much even good material can suffer if the timing is off, and how much even vapid material can be enhanced by someone who, in common parlance, tells a joke well.

And when you are dealing with world-class wit – a script by Noel Coward – then the addition of beautifully executed performances can become a wondrous thing. As example, please see “Fallen Angels,” now at the Pasadena Playhouse. At its least it is a charming send-up of stuffy society marriages. At its best it contains some of the funniest moments of physical comedy I’ve seen onstage in some time.

It is the 1920s. Julia Sterroll and her longtime best friend Jane Banbury have successful, if not blissful marriages to substantial, if stolid men. When both husbands leave on a golf trip, the two women would be fine doing things together, until they each receive word that the Frenchman each in turn had a premarital affair with is about to arrive in London. Anticipation and dread fill the air, as each woman deals with long-squelched passions, mixed as they are with their mutual jealousies and their foundational friendship.

As the two women wait for their old love’s arrival they almost unintentionally drift into a champagne-based alcoholic haze. Never has drunkeness been so funny, if only because both characters are essential ladies in spite of all. Pamela J. Gray and Katie MacNichol, as Julia and Jane respectively, have that rare ability for a physical comedy just at the edge of being over-the-top: hysterical but not ridiculous.

Added to this, Mary-Pat Green proves a delight playing their overly qualified but somewhat detached maid, an observer marking the silliness and adding to the household upheavals. Loren Lester and Mike Ryan offer up the staunchly practical, comparatively puritan husbands who are forced by the end to see their wives in somewhat different light. Elijah Alexander is briefly but flamboyantly the awaited French lover.

Still, it is Gray and MacNichol who rule this piece. Under the deft hand of director Art Manke, who lets them fill the room always with just enough held back, their actions leave the audience helpless with laughter even as the crisp Coward dialogue propels them forward.

Tom Buderwitz has created a flashy Victorian flat, with lovely period detail, for this romp to live in. David K. Mickelsen’s costuming – particularly MacNichol’s very period evening dress – not only add to the comedy but provide some rather humorous statements about that period’s fashions as well.

“Fallen Angels” is not profound, nor was it intended to be. It is, rather, a chance to see great, silly comedy done with remarkable expertise. And what a treat that can be: something very funny done very well by the very expert. Get tickets before they disappear, as word of this delight is certain to spread quickly.

What: “Fallen Angels” When: Through February 24, 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays Where: Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave. in Pasadena How Much: $32 – $62, with premium seating available for $100 Info: (626) 356-7529 or http://www.Pasadena Playhouse.org

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