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Charles Grodin's The Right Kind of People at Primary Stages
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Charles Grodin's The Right Kind of People at Primary Stages

- Backstage with the Playwrights

The Right Kind of People
A New Play
By Charles Grodin

Primary Stages
59 East 59th Street

Casey Childs: Exec. Producer
Andrew Leynse: Artistic Director

Doris Belack, Stephen Bradbury, Fred Burrell,
Mitchell Greenberg, Keith Jochim, Katherine Leask,
Edwin C. Owens, Robert Stanton,
Evan Thompson, John C. Vennema

Director: Chris Smith
Set Design: Annie Smart
Costume Design: Jenny Mannis
Lighting Design: Russell Champa
Sound Design: Fabian Obispo
Prop Master: Jay Duckworth
Production Stage Manager: Emily N. Wells
Asst. Stage Manager: Pamela Brusoski
Production Supervisor: PRF Productions
Assistant Director: Marlo Hunter
Casting: Stephanie Klapper Casting
Press: OPR/Origlio Public Relations
Director of Marketing: Louis Bavaro
Associate Artistic Director: Tyler Marchant

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
February 5, 2006

(See a New Year’s Eve Party at 59E59 Theaters)

I’ve always enjoyed watching Charles Grodin, an actor on television and Broadway (Lovers and Other Strangers, Same Time Next year), and, on TV talk, found him teasingly sarcastic and blatantly blunt. As a playwright he is also sarcastic and blunt, but not that funny. Not all theatre is comic, and The Right Kind of People is not really a comedy, or, if it is, there needed to be more author’s assistance. The post-theatre comments in the lobby related to this very fact, such as “This isn’t so funny, because it’s what really happens. I was on a co-op board. He should have added something new”.

Maybe out of town, homeowners would find this one-act, situation comedy funny, as they are not seasoned co-op survivors. Even renters in this city are screened for finances, lifestyle, and probably other socio-economic factors kept under wraps. Grodin’s new play is based on his own experiences as a member of an East Side (Fifth Avenue) co-op board, quite some years ago. The character at the center of this drama is a young nephew drawn by his uncle onto the board, as somewhat of a protégée. The uncle, Frank Rashman (Edwin C. Owens), is the financial backbone of his nephew, Tom Rashman’s (Robert Stanton), plays. There are two ensembles of board members, as a coup d’état of outsiders infiltrates the old co-op board and takes some hostages to the new co-op board.

Doug Bernstein (Mitchell Greenberg) is led to resign for “treasonous” behavior - socializing with the outsiders. Betty Butler (Doris Belack) is a stuffy (the funniest) member of the original board, until she dies of cancer and re-emerges in a wig as Mrs. Goldberg, half of the “too Jewish” couple, that’s quickly rejected by the members of both boards. In fact, that’s one point made in Grodin’s effort to underscore the innate hatred that “man” has, which may only present itself, when power is awarded. His thematic thread – the “liberals” that overturned the old board became the “neo-conservatives” of the new board, merging personalities and opinions with those they kept on board.

The “not funny” owner application/interview decisions that both boards grappled with ran the gamut from: having single women who might end up on the elevator with someone’s husband, having too large dogs on these elevators, having small children or teenagers in any corner of the building, having maids or doormen on the elevators, and so on. The “very funny” decisions were the ironic ones, and a taste for the ironic is one of Grodin’s renowned attributes. At first the board rejected an applicant as a probable alcoholic. Then there was a discussion of what an alcoholic is. Then there was the obvious liquor bar at the rear of the board room. Then there was scene after scene with most members pouring, holding, or sipping from a glass of wine or scotch. And, as the ironic clincher, there was the line from one character, “Where are rich people with drinking problems supposed to live?”

The strengths of this play are in the attempt to provoke thinking about bigotry and betrayal, character and conscience. Tom Rashman was reared by his uncle Frank, supported by his uncle Frank, professionally backed by his uncle Frank, given a co-op by his uncle Frank, and then, with some power in his hands as a member of both co-op boards, he found time to betray uncle Frank’s trust and befriend uncle Frank’s “enemies” who arranged for uncle Frank to resign. The scene where the two men had their “last stand” was quite poignant. As for bigotry, that was the thread of the caricatures of the owner interviews (the Kansas people were rejected as classless, before the interview committee knew of that couple’s wealth, and the “too Jewish” couple came across worse than a Jackie Mason joke). Of course, the entire play is about bigotry, and, finally, Tom, himself, resorted to the worst within himself.

Character and conscience as a thematic thread seemed to evolve in Frank Rashman, as he rejected his nephew’s new morality. Doug Bernstein, who resigned and moved, out of principle and purpose, also exhibited character and conscience. Tom Rashman seemed to lose both, in his negative, self-serving evolution, and, even in his onstage postscript, spoke of his uncle’s isolation and pain in a somewhat cold, distant manner. If Tom is Grodin’s autobiographical character, then I wonder how deep the irony goes. In a press program note, Grodin speaks of moving to a West Side condo or co-op in the near future, and I wonder if he’ll find a similar scenario of bigotry, even in 2006, even in Manhattan West. If bigotry is born of power, will “the melody linger on?”

I recommend Charles Grodin’s The Right Kind of People for its sharp insights and provocation of introspection and self-awareness. I do not recommend this play, if you’re looking for a riotous comedy. As the woman said in the lobby, “…it’s what really happens.”

The cast of "The Right Kind of People" by Charles Grodin now in performance at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theatres. Directed by Chris Smith performances continue through March 5, 2005.
Photo courtesy of James Leynse

(Left to Right) Ed Owens, Evan Thompson, Doris Belack and Robert Stanton make up a feisty coop board in "The Right Kind of People" by Charles Grodin now in performance at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theatres.
Photo courtesy of James Leynse

Robert Stanton in "The Right Kind of People" by Charles Grodin now in performance at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theatres.
Photo courtesy of James Leynse

(Left to Right) Keith Jochim, Ed Owens and Evan Thompson in "The Right Kind of People" by Charles Grodin now in performance at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theatres.
Photo courtesy of James Leynse

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at