Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Charles Grodin's The Right Kind of People
The Magic Theatre continues to attract top playwrights to present their new works at the prestigious theatre, including the world premiere of Charles Grodin's comedy-drama The Right Kind of People. The farce has a great look, an excellent top-flight cast and a terrific set for the small stage. Everything is dry witty remarks, sardonic humor and a little drama thrown in for the 90-minute fast-paced production. However, something is missing. What is lacking is cohesiveness. Scene changes occur constantly, as if in a film. There are too many characters in this short production, resulting in the audience getting very little background on them. This is certainly a work in progress, and it definitely needs work. It's more of a commentary that CBS 60 Minutes might pick up.
Noted actor, commentator and writer Charles Grodin once served six years on an upper-class Manhattan apartment building co-op board and his time with this elite group still haunts him. He started to write a play about his experiences, along with with stories that he picked up from other New Yorkers. Chris Smith, who is making his directorial debut at the Magic, worked with Grodin on several readings and this is the final product. The Right Kind of People is a satire on how these groups screen "undesirables" from buying a condo in the prestigious buildings. There is a clubby snobbery about the board as they turn away the "wrong kind of people" for an empty apartment even though the other apartment dwellers will be paying an exorbitant monthly fee while the place is empty.
This cream of the crop group get details on potential buyers, and many of the interviews are hilarious yet oh so true. In one scene, the board wants to change the rules on servants and housekeepers coming up the main elevator because one night a woman in one of the apartments had to ride up alone in an elevator with a "strange black man." The whole scene turns into a farce about who they should disallow from riding on the main elevator. As one of the board characters says, "we wouldn't want a strange man, black or any color, riding the elevator with our wives." And another member says, "Fine - strange men of any color," as ye another member chimes in "or women." In the end, all housekeepers must ride up on a service elevator.
The Right Kind of People contains many farcical scenes about such situations as having pets in the building, what weight or height is acceptable for a pet, the problems of having children under the age 6 and those in their teens. The basic story is entwined around Tom (Robert Parson), a Broadway producer (and stand in for Mr. Grodin himself), and his surrogate-father Uncle Frank (Ken Ruta), who is a board member of the co-op . Frank sponsored Tom's admission to the building. Tom also becomes a member of the board, even though he is young and suspected of being a liberal and member of the ACLU, much to the dismay of this conservative group. The crux of the play is a battle for control between an older group of co-op managers and a newer and what we think is a more progressive and "liberal" group.
Charles Grodin has not given the secondary characters a personal history or even eccentricities to make them interesting. They become caricatures rather than people. Even the center story of Tom and Frank is imprecise, in spite of the acting of Ken Ruta and Robert Parsons. Ruda has some wonderful scenes as he realizes that the child he raised has become a man completely different to his own philosophy. We see the disintegration of this very proud man before our eyes.
The Right Kind of People runs though December 12 at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org. Their next production will be the American premiere of Rebecca Gillman's The Sweetest Swing in Baseball, opening on January 22.