“The Right Kind of People” Square One Theatre

--Irene Backalenick

Does anti-Semitism still exist in this country today? Has it taken on a new, more subtle form? Charles Grodin tackles the subject in his current play, “The Right Kind of People,” now playing in Stratford, Connecticut, at the Square One Theatre.

Grodin is probably best know for his role as the beleaguered husband in the Elaine May film “The Heartbreak Kid.” But Grodin is actually a multi-talented man of the performing arts—as performer, director, writer, humorist. And now Grodin has taken on the cutthroat world of the New York coops. He claims that this piece is based on his own experiences, as well as those of friends, as they attempted to buy or sell coops in pricey New York buildings.

“The Right Kind of People,” set in a fancy Fifth Avenue building, deals with the smugness and nastiness of its board members, as they wield their power. Amid the many petty concerns of this board are elevators, strollers, dogs. Should the black servants be allowed to ride the front elevator, or be confined to the building staff’s rear elevator? Should pet dogs be limited to certain sizes and weights? Should infant strollers be limited in size?

But, more seriously, the play focuses on bigotry which underlies major board decisions. Who should be allowed to enter this rarified world? Clearly, money alone is not enough, since only super-rich apply in the first place. Bigotry in these decisions can be aimed at blacks, gays, divorcees, teen-agers—and particularly Jews. “I am certainly not anti-Semitic,” one character exclaims righteously (or words to that effect), “but it’s a question of whether these people would be comfortable here.” The main character is a young man, a theater producer, who manages to buy in and become a board member due to his uncle’s influence. But he soon discovers the underlying message, which he finds hard to swallow. Ultimately, he gives up his board membership and his coop, moving with his young family to Connecticut.

Because it is a Grodin play, one expects to find humor, but, alas, this piece is terribly earnest—in fact, didactic. And, because most of the “action” takes place at board meetings, there is little action, despite the skilled direction of Tom Holehan in this Connecticut production.

Yet Grodin has chosen an interesting subject for his drama—and, one suspects, a very real topic in the world of New York City real estate.  Perhaps in a rewrite—with less earnestness and more black humor in Grodin’s style—this could be a far more effective play.

This review also appeared in the National Jewish Post & Opinion and on the web sites—Jewish-theatre.com and nytheaterscene.com.

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