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By R. Eli Townsend
Special to The PREVIEW
David Lindsay-Abaire created a magnificent play with his 2011 script “Good People.”
Characters move in and out of the title status within a five-minute stretch; one person seems like a fine, upstanding citizen one moment and a complete scoundrel the next. And like a round of musical chairs rotating positions, the next good person steps into the scoundrel role right on cue.
Thingamajig Theatre Company, in co-production with Abster Productions, presented some duality of its own with its delivery of the Colorado premiere of “Good People” last Friday night (final rehearsal) in Denver at the John Hand Theatre.
The six cast members, guided by the detailed direction of John Ashton, brought the laughs in the lighthearted first act and seriously turned up the tension in the unbridled second act, creating perhaps the best production in the final full offering of the company’s 2013 summer season. That’s really saying something considering the very fine and entertaining productions of “Spamalot” and “Full Monty” that ran previously.
“Good People” rises to those heights thanks largely to Abby Apple Boes, who takes over the stage from the opening of the play. That opening highlights her spunky, mouthy character, Margaret, getting fired from her position at the dollar store in her tough South Boston neighborhood by Stevie (Craig Dolezel), the son of a late friend of hers. Boes is funny when she needs to be, fierce when she has to be and, thanks to her endless energy, always fun to watch.
After losing her job, Margaret consults with her loopy Southie friends Dottie and Jean (Deborah Persoff and Nancy Thomas), and their conversation leads Margaret to seek a job with an old high school flame, Mike (Kevin Hart), who left his scrappy background to become a successful fertility doctor. Margaret half-begs Mike for work, because she desperately needs an income to help her care for the developmentally disabled daughter she gave birth to not long after she and Mike were an item.
Margaret can’t help but say things she shouldn’t, or at least that society dictates she shouldn’t, so when she shows up at the home Mike shares with his wife, Kate (Kristen Adele), and daughter, that’s when the second-act trouble brews big time.
“Good People” is great fun for a while, but by the end becomes even more rewarding with its deep consideration of people’s motivations. Is there such a thing as “good people?” Or are we all just flawed people who sometimes show very good tendencies and sometimes show very, very bad ones?
“Good People” also looks closely at class and social structure. Margaret’s confrontation with Mike brings him down from his comfortable perch on Chestnut Hill and returns him psychologically to a place he hadn’t been for 30 years — the projects of South Boston. It’s an uncomfortable return for him and for the audience, but it’s just as cathartic as it is painful.
Boes is an amazing force on stage, but her fellow cast members are just as captivating. Persoff and Thomas keep the first act close to hilarious with their off-kilter portrayals of the appropriately named Dottie and the plain-spoken Jean.
Hart makes Mike an upstanding rock for much of the production, but when the cracks begin to show and Mike grows weaker; Hart’s portrayal only grows stronger. Adele is alternately delightful and tenacious as Mike’s wife, and Dolezel turns in an understated but crucial role as Margaret’s seemingly weak former boss.
Director John Ashton, perhaps best known for his work with AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” helps keep the performances on the mark by creating a whip-cracking pace throughout. “Good People” is more than two hours long, including intermission, but doesn’t feel like it.
Ashton makes sure his actors focus on some of the little details that make a play about the human condition work as well as this one does. Arguments overlap, as they do in the real world. Stevie’s subtle facial tics as he fires Margaret and Mike’s clenched jaw as he wrangles with his long-ago girlfriend say as much about the suffering of these characters as do the playwright’s words.
The set by John Santangelo is one of the more complex scenic designs Thingamajig Theatre Company has created of late, with various rooms — Dottie’s dowdy kitchen, Mike and Kate’s upscale living room, a dingy dollar-store brick wall, a church bingo hall — receiving loving attention.
But, this is a play about people.
Good people? Maybe.
Good production? Absolutely.
“Good People” begins its run at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts on Friday, Aug. 16 and plays through Sept. 1.
Call 731-SHOW for tickets and information.