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A CurtainUp Review
The Right Kind of People
According to Doug Bernstein, the rare Jewish liberal on the co-op board at the center of Charles Grodin's The Right Kind of People, money is just one criteria for getting one's foot inside one of these golden doors. An acceptable shareholder should be a very rich white guy with a high-class social pedigree; enough money for the hefty down payments, maintenance and unanticipated assessment but not so much that the shareholders will feel outranked. If a woman, she should NOT be a divorcee (Grodin's board may have been thinking about another building in which a divorced resident dated and eventually married the mailman). This exclusivity would eliminate any Jew who's too obviously Jewish, and any Black except "maybe a very light skinned head of the U.N."
The less than open-armed welcome for any but those deemed worthy, extends to dogs, who. unless "grandfathered in," may face a "no pets" policy or meet rigid size and weight standards. The discussions about the building's canine population provide some of the play's more amusing dialogue.
Grodin, best known as an actorMr. Grodin is famous as an actor (The Heartbreak Kid, Heaven Can Wait) and television personality, has actually written a number of plays, all produced. This latest couldn't have landed at a more apt location than the 59E59Theater which is probably within walking distance of the Fifth Avenue building where Grodin was a shareholder and co-op board member some years ago. The idea for the play now being given its New York premiere by Primary Stages was born when one of the author's fellow board members tagged someone as the wrong kind of person because "he buys his clothes off the rack."
Though Grodin's strongest suite as a writer is humor his intentions are serious, the idea being to use the co-op board of an exclusive East Side building to hold up a mirror to the bigotry rampant throughout America. With a plot that takes us behind the scenes with two co-op boards -- the board in power when the lights go up, the opposing faction after a palace coup designed to make the board more democratic -- Grodin also seems bent on substantiating Abraham Lincoln's comment: "If you want to test a man's character, give him power."
While the playwright makes his points, milks the co-op background for all possible laughs and even manages to weave in a semblance of a story, the shenanigans of a fancy schmanzy building's co-op board -- or any co-op or other organization's board -- simply don't make for a particularly compelling play. What we're offered is a well-intentioned send-up aimed at amusing New York's many co-op residents, even those in less lofty buildings, and prompting some self-searching about unacknowledged bigotry. What we get is a concept that seems more like an over-developed comedy skit than a full-fledged satire.
The non board meeting scenes interspersed throughout the 90 minutes do little to prevent a sense of sameness throughout. The scenes between Tom (Robert Stanton), the young theater producer who is the newest member of the board and obviously the playwright's alter ego, and Doug (Mitchell Greenberg), the board's one opposing voice tend to sound more like debates than conversations.
The personal story line which involves Tom's relationship with the uncle (Edwin C. Owens) who has been his father and professional mentor (getting him into the building and onto the board being his latest good uncle deed) is fairly predictable. Since Tom and Uncle Frank are the most developed chacters, their conflict points up the two-dimensional quality of all the other characters.
Robert Stanton plays Tom with somewhat charming naivete, but the script he has been handed here hardly matches the sublime wit that he had to work with when I last saw him as the Walter Mitty-like Weinberl in a Williamstown Theatre Festival revival of On the Razzle. The rest of the large ensemble is competent with several slyly double cast as members of the co-op board and potential shareholders. Doris Belack's transformation from prim and proper co-op board matron to the rich, over-dressed wife of a Jewish rag trade tycoon would be funny if she brought anything but blandness to the first part, and stereotypical shtick to the latter.
Chris Smith, who also directed the San Francisco premiere, makes the most of the amusingly awkward meeting between the old guard and the opposing faction but he's unable to keep the board members' numerous entrances and exits from being repetitive. The fact, that the only costume changes are for the board members turned shareholder applicants does little to dispel the aura of sameness and predictability that overhangs this whole enterprise.
The furnishings Bloomingdale's has provided for Annie Smart's unit set doesn't look as if it comes from their luxury line. I've seen more elegant decor in my own modest co-op building's apartments. I might add that its co-op board, over which my husband presides, operates with far less pomp and circumstance. When not taking care of business via e-mail the board meets in a basement room more interestingly furnished with shareholders' discards than this rather unimpressive Bloomingdale decor. Oh, and being approved as a shareholder would be far more in keeping with Lady Liberty's open door creed though several non-stop barking and lobby defiling canine residents led to a "no pets" policy.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by our editor.
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