Actors Theatre's Good People Captivates Downtown Phoenix Audiences

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The setup: In playwright David Lindsay-Abaire's (Rabbit Hole, A Devil Inside, Fuddy Meers, Wonder of the World) most recent local première, Good People, South Boston single mom Margie (Katie McFadzen) has, in the latest in a string of bad breaks, lost her crappy job as a dollar-store cashier. The radiant success of Actors Theatre's production of this extraordinary but typically seriocomic Lindsay-Abaire script, and its place in the company's own persistent and beleaguered recent history, affected both particularly and unexceptionally by the economy, stupid, mirrors Margie's struggle and resilience.

Presented simply yet painstakingly on a three-sided thrust platform that initiates the rehearsal hall of Arizona Opera Center, across Central from Phoenix Art Museum, as a part-time informal performance space, this show is that special, evanescent thing you must possess -- or "be possessed by" is probably more accurate. It's the theatrical equivalent of a cronut or a Hunger Games midnight opening or biodegradable condom or geez, whatever, only better.

See also: She Works Hard for the Money: Actors Theatre exposes the ways real people make rent

The execution: Artistic director Matthew Weiner and his skeleton crew have a way of pinning down the best actors, designers, and other staff and supporters and then wringing every drop of wonderfulness out of these talented people. The fervor of their mission is subsumed in shows that play out like breathtaking forces of nature.

The big guns here are the cast's work and how it's subtly adapted to the jaw-dropping intimacy of the venue. McFadzen, whom we don't often get to see outside her stunning but arcane work in Childsplay productions, is onstage virtually every moment. Maria Amorocho, Cathy Dresbach, Rusty Ferracane, and ASU MFA candidates Tyler Eglen and Shanique S. Scott inhabit the other characters -- Margie's friend, landlady, boss, high-school flame Mike, and Mike's wife, Kate.

Jeff Thomson's set is a triumph of creativity over resources -- neither cheap-looking nor, probably, cheap, it still accomplishes a world with just a few perfect touches. Actors and stagehands alike fly into action between scenes, swapping out the furnishings of a tenement kitchen, a church hall on bingo night, a top-tier reproductive endocrinologist's office, and Mike and Kate's classy Chestnut Hill living room. Backstage, other folks are sliding big, colorful photo panels in and out of a trio of periaktoi to create stylized but hyperrealistic backdrops. All this happens while scraps of Springsteen play and before you have time to say "glory days, well, they'll pass you by."

The plot is best experienced in the moment. I hope you will. Seats are going fast, so get a move on.

The verdict: When I hear everyone has the same opportunities to succeed and hey, so-and-so overcame obstacles without any help, I want to start doing some slapping, because they're either ignorant or lying and oughta know better. (Not everyone is capable of knowing better -- that's the point -- but if you don't, then crawl down out of other people's asses already.)

Sure, fundamentally, I don't believe in slapping, and I do believe we have power in our own lives, but it's hard to access all on your own at times. Like when all you want is to open some hearts and minds: Why are the folks who want to tell everyone else how to live so resistant to learning anything about them? This is the kind of show that can help fix that.

Even if it's mostly preaching to the choir, the choir needs encouragement, too. And Good People is also funny and suspenseful and sassy and an example of gorgeous theater that makes people want to engage with the arts more. Bingo!

Good People continues through Sunday, May 11, at Arizona Opera Center, 1636 North Central Avenue. Admission ranges from $18 to $45; order here or call 602-888-0368.

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