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'Good People' a rock-solid portrayal of struggle at La Mirada

'Good People' a rock-solid portrayal of struggle at La Mirada
Anne Gee Byrd, left, Katie MacNichol and Gigi Bermingham in "Good People" at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. (Michael Lamont)

The dilemmas facing the life-battered protagonist of "Good People" are perhaps strategically manipulated, but that doesn't make them any less relevant, humorous or dramatically engrossing.

In fact, David Lindsay-Abaire's 2011 comedy-drama of socioeconomic dynamics in South Boston is in some ways his finest construct to date, as its rock-solid rendering at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts grippingly demonstrates.

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We first meet salty-tongued single mom Margie (the fearless Katie MacNichol) -- pronounced, as Southies will, with a hard "g" -- in the alley behind the discount store where she works. Her abrasive-jocular personality scarcely disguises Margie's essential vulnerability, as becomes apparent when the "conference" with manager Stevie (Wyatt Fenner, invested as ever) goes quickly south.

Late yet again thanks to the vagaries of rapid transit and securing landlady-babysitting for her mentally challenged adult daughter, Margie's desperate dancing around the firing that homeboy Stevie timorously lays down shows playwright Lindsay-Abaire at his most specific and acute.

The jagged morality play he sculpts is perhaps, as some critics have observed, carefully slanted so that Mike (the excellent Martin Kildare), Margie's high school boyfriend now returned as successful physician, carries an inherent sympathetic disadvantage beside Margie's gradually un-layered motivations. Yet didn't Odets and Rattigan arrange their characters' narrative conflicts toward specifically potent dramatic ends?

Director Jeff Maynard takes a more measured approach than previous encounters, but it works like gangbusters. The execution is sparely evocative, particularly designer Stephen Gifford's artful set and Adriana Lambarri's lived-in wardrobe, with the top-drawer cast that surrounds MacNichol's sort-of-heroine -- whose quality, equal parts Penny Fuller and Patricia Wettig, is exactly right -- wholly delivering the goods.

The Act 2 climax finds MacNichol and Kildare's carefully modulated performances hitting electrifying heights, abetted by Sophina Brown's subtle, unaffected turn as Kate, Mike's cultured African American wife.

Earlier, local treasures Anne Gee Byrd and Gigi Bermingham have already typified the production's authenticity as, respectively, Margie's landlady Dottie and crony Jean, with Fenner's vivid schnook completing a spot-on matched set.

"People" may not be a classically great play, but considering the identifiable humans and ambiguous conflicts Lindsay-Abaire puts up there, it's indisputably good.

"Good People," La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 12. $20-$70. (562) 944-9801 or www.lamiradatheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

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