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Review – Good People

Let’s not waste time here: Good People, a play by David Lindsay-Abaire, directed by Tracy Brigden, and performed at the O’Reilly Theatre as a PGH Public Theater production was…..

Astounding.

Let me say it a different way: Good People, PGH Public Theater’s newest show that runs through December 9 and stars Kelly McAndrew, Paul Terzenbach, Glynis Bell, Helen Coxe, David Whalen and January LaVoy, is…

Bewitchingly, beguilingly, be…uh…dazzlingly incredible.  What was so impressive about Good People is the complexity of the story without it bearing overbearing; the intricacies of the plot without it being far-fetching; and the dynamics of the cast without them being unbelievable.  In fact, the cast was entirely believable; you fast forgot that they were speaking (extremely well-written) lines because it all just soooooo natural.  It rolled…on the river.

Listen to this story.

Good People 032

The beginning of the play opens with a brazen monologue by Kelly McAndrew’s Margaret.  She tells a story of a girl she grew up with that is as desperate and wily and sharp as they come.  It’s a pure mash-up of a tale, at once hysterical, honest, and sorrowful – much like the play itself.

The cast is to be commended for taking on such a work.  This is a blistering look at life and love and if we ever really get out of our neighborhoods, if we ever really escape our pasts, and if we ever really want to.  It asks those timeless should’ve, would’ve, could’ve, if only, what if questions that burn a hole right through us every time we think about the answer.  (And man, does David Lindsay-Abaire really make you think about them.)  At barely over 2 hours long, this play flies by.   And because no production of art is ever done by an island, let’s look at the village it took to assemble this masterpiece of theater:

The crew.  Wow, much praise to the crew.  I had the pleasure of meeting Production Stage Manager Fred Noel and he was a joy to speak with.  Dialect Coach Don Wadswoth is to be commended for his sharp ear – the cast was pitch perfect.  And scenic design by Jeff Cowie, costume design by Michael Krass, lighting design by Phil Monat, and sound design my Zach Moore were all exceptional.  McCorkle Casting was in charge of finding the half dozen people to create the cast and man, did they ever find gems.  Starting with:

Paul Terzenbach as Stevie– What a delight, what a character.  He displayed such naturalness it was so easy to think that he was just adlibbing the entire time.  And in perfec tBoston accent.

Glynis Bell as Dottie – Crotchety and wonderful, Glynis was a weathered, tough old bird of a woman.  She had some of the best lines of the night and had the audience in hysterics, much like…

Helen Coxe as Jean – Talk about tough!  This girl could chew you up and spit you out and then floss with your remains!  Helen Coxe set fire to this role.

January LaVoy as Kate – Arguably the most tender and innocent of the characters in the entire play.  Everyone seems to be scheming in one way or another, or has some sort of ulterior motive, or just has that something else going on that won’t be revealed until the end.  January’s Kate, however, comes into the play during the second half, all comfy and cool and calm.  She’s an open  book – an intensely entertaining, complex, fully-realized, thrilling book.  (Not available for download.)

David Whalen as Michael – David has the most enviable introduction in the play, hands down.  Much like Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray – where a full chapter goes by with main characters just talking about the elusive, beautiful Dorian – two full scenes are acted out by Margaret and her friends waxing poetic about Mikey, Dr. Mike, that kid, that guy, that person from their past…and in all that talk, a wonderful sense of mystery and anticipation is created.  It would be oh so easy to finally meet this Dr. Mike and be totally let down because c’mon, ladies, we’ve all been there when friends talk about a guy and when we meet him we’re like, ew.  But David pulls off a pure magic trick: he walks on stage and you can’t take your eyes off him.  All that hype and build up in the previous scenes wasn’t wrong: this guy is something special.  (And tall!!!  Was David always so tall?  Did he grow like, forty feet in the last few weeks?  Anyone?  Anyone?  Just me?  Okay.)

I last saw David in Pittsburgh Irish and Classical’s production of Three Sisters as the honorable but ultimately unhappy Vershinin.  It was a quiet, slow-burn of a performance.  Don’t expect that kind of simmer here.  He wears his emotions on his sleeves and is not afraid to call people out.  (As a person who isn’t necessarily hardwired for conflict, there were quite a few moments in the play where I honestly cringed when he called someone out.  I couldn’t believe he said some things!)  Best of all, his performance had one of the most genuine turns I’ve seen in a play.  Ever.  It makes the writer in me just want to die!!!!!  The last 20 minutes of this show was a live wire.

Kelly McAndrew as Margaret – Katniss has nothing on Kelly McAndrew.  She is a GIRL ON FIRE!  We’re talking brutal, we’re talking raw, we’re talking a powerhouse performance that packed a whallop of a 1-2-3.  If she wasn’t making me laugh aloud, then Kelly was making me hold my breath with anticipation.  If she wasn’t making me totally pissed off, she was making me completely understand where she was coming from.  I loved her, I felt bad for her, I loathed her, I cheered for her, I hoped to God I’d never be like her, I wondered if I could be as tough as her.  I wanted her to win, I wanted her to lose.  I hated when she got yelled at, I thought maybe she deserved to get yelled at.  Kelly’s performance was so fully realize and alive, not only did she go through every shade of the emotional rainbow, but I did too!!!  She was a person, not just a character on a page.  My god, if she does not win PGH’s Performer of the Year, I’m pullin’ a Kanye on whoever does.

Imma letchu finish!

(Has it sunk in yet that I really loved this play?????)

The plot of the play was also, in and of itself, a thing of simplistic beauty.  Who would’ve thought there’d be such strife in old friends running into each other again?  But this, darling readers, is what I call ripe.  There’s just so much you can do with that sort of situation…so many different histories and memories you can imbue in it.  Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire really went for the uh….whatever that thing is when you want to hit a home run.  And director Tracy Brigden found all the nuances, all the things people weren’t saying but were dying to say/too afraid to say/didn’t even realize they wanted to say.  She did an incredible job with a play that had as many moving parts as a 172 Skyhawk Cessna.  One false piece and the entire structure would fall.  But under Tracy’s careful eyes, it didn’t just fly, it soared.

Good venue, good play, Good People, indeed.

Oh, and PS. Many thanks to the wonderful admin staff at Pittsburgh Public Theatre.  You’re all class acts all the way.  Special shout out to Margie Romero!!!!

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