Kelly McAndrew plays a woman striving to change her destiny in Public's 'Good People'


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Margie Walsh is having a terrible time of it, and you're invited to listen in.

In David Lindsay-Abaire's Tony-nominated play "Good People," Margie (pronounced with a hard "g") is a mouthy Southie whose indomitable spirit is tested as troubles pile up. The single mom of a mentally disabled adult daughter, she has lost her dime-store job and is facing eviction.

And there's another thing the audience at Pittsburgh Public Theater will learn quickly about Margie. Little that pops into her mind is left unsaid, and most of it comes across as unfiltered.

'Good People'

Where: Pittsburgh Public Theater at the O'Reilly Theater, Downtown.

When: Previews Thurs. through Nov. 15; regular run Nov. 16-Dec. 9. 7 p.m. Tuesdays; 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays (8 p.m. only Nov. 10 and 17); 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays (2 p.m. only Dec. 9); also 2 p.m. Dec. 6 (no performance Dec. 22).

Tickets: $23-$55; 412-316-1600 or ppt.org.

"There are times where she enumerates all that's happened to her, but I don't think David Lindsay-Abaire wrote someone who is self-pitying. I think she's a survivor. It's just that right now, she's not doing a very good job of it. Right now, it's a really bad week," said Kelly McAndrew, who is taking on the role of Margie for Pittsburgh Public Theater.

Margie believes that she never had a chance to get out of South Boston, but she sees a flicker of hope in reacquainting herself with former boyfriend Mike, a married doctor who escaped the neighborhood.

The women in Margie's life are a source of support and humor yet reinforce the idea that they are doomed to a cycle of despair. Jeannie (Helen Coxe) and Dottie (Glynnis Bell) are Margie's bingo-playing buddies, so what better way for the cast to bond than by playing bingo?

"I feel like the ensemble gelled very quickly," Ms. McAndrew said. "We all went and played bingo, which was so fun. We went to St. Lawrence O'Toole Church [in Garfield], and Helen won $100 on the inside square game, which is the game that Stevie wins in the play -- signs everywhere, right? It was great to immerse ourselves here. I know the play is very specific to that depressed urban neighborhood and definitely very Southie, but I think Pittsburghers will really relate to it."

"Good People" reunites Ms. McAndrew with director Tracy Bridgen, who crosses the river from South Side's City Theatre for a stint with the Public. Ms. Brigden directed Ms. McAndrew in City's "Precious Little" last year and also was at the helm of "The Price" for Ted Pappas' Public Theater in 2010.

"Tracy's view of people is very wide, and I think that's what makes her such a good director," Ms. McAndrew said. "Her directorial eye is not just where she came from or how she was raised or where she went to school. She has an empathy that she brings to the room that I see her use with every character and every scenario in the play. And it's a safe room; you feel free to fail, make the wrong choices, and then it's OK, don't worry, you're going to be fine. It's a light room; there's a lot of laughter. And it's close."

The cast took time out from rehearsals to attend City's opening of "Maple and Vine" and Seth Rudetsky's comedy show, which was familiar territory for New York-based McAndrew. She also went to see her good friend Ted Koch in the Public's "Born Yesterday."

"The Public is a different theater [from City], but it feels like home; it feels wonderfully challenging and artistic," she said.

The challenge of playing Margie can be exhausting, with lots of shouting and tears required, and respect for a character who makes some questionable decisions along the way.

Margie repeats over and over that she just wants to work; a job can be her ticket to a better life.

"That truly is this major overall objective," Ms. McAndrew said. "These things get in the way, whether it be pride or anger or desperation or a set of skills. ... Where Margie lives, and I can see where she comes from, she doesn't see that she has had choices. She was born into something. No teacher ever took her by the hand, her father was gone, her mother was never home, she was working at a factory. Margie wasn't a bad girl; she got pregnant."

Deciding to have a child alone has propelled Margie into the position she finds herself in when we meet her in "Good People." Now, she's desperate to find a way out.

Ms. McAndrew never saw the Broadway production that garnered a best-actress Tony for Frances McDormand, the McKeesport-raised and Carnegie Mellon-trained actress. "And I'm glad, because then I'd have one of the great actresses of our time in my head," she said.

"I think what inspires me about Margie and what makes her such a fun character to explore and learn and play is that she is constantly striving, even to the end, she truly believes, there's got to be something more."

theater

Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960.


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