Review: ONE OF THE GOOD ONES at Pasadena Playhouse

A dinner party gone askew at Pasadena Playhouse

By: Mar. 29, 2024
Review: ONE OF THE GOOD ONES at Pasadena Playhouse
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There were no sweets awaiting the guests as we departed the official state theater of California and headed to our cars, our Lyfts, our domiciles or wherever the heck we were all going. I pick this admittedly highly trivial nit not because I wanted or needed anything caloric, but because the playwright deemed it so. You see, the final words of ONE OF THE GOOD ONES, a comedy by Gloria Calderon Kellett having its world premiere at the afore-referenced Pasadena Playhouse, is the script note: “On the way out of the theatre, audience members should be given candy.” The reason for said instruction is not a cerebral one. The play, whose characters are all of Latin heritage, contains a pinata which – spoiler alert, kinda – meets its demise at the end of a baton wielded by more than one character.

This pinata is a half poignant/half goofy present brought over (along with a bottle of wine) by the new boyfriend whose meet-the-parents encounter is the basis of GOOD ONES. And, yes, the pinata plays a role in the proceedings. Unless the playbill includes a pinata repairperson that I somehow overlooked, director Kimberly Senior and her four-person company are going through one pinata a night. That’s six or seven pinatas per week meeting their makers, two on Saturday.

The actors get candy. The audience does not. We get a sweet, occasionally tart, funny if not particularly substantial new play to unwrap. Seems like a fair trade.

A second cousin once removed to William Rose’s GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, Kellett’s genial comedy finds the highly assimilated, upper middle class Gomez family losing their collective sanity when their daughter, Yoli, brings home Marcos, a man who, to her parents’ minds at least, qualifies as an “other.” Humor, revelations, embraces and pinata destruction ensue.

As do assorted ruminations and angsting over the thorns of cultural identity because Kellett (ONE DAY AT A TIME) is a smart writer who has covered this terrain before and because she needs something to fill out the 85 minutes of what otherwise would be Neil Simon lite (or is that redundant?). The Pasadena Playhouse proudly trumpets GOOD ONES as a commission. Following the riches of the reimagined INHERIT THE WIND, and last season’s STEW, SANCTUARY CITY and the Sondheim Celebration, this one feels like a palate cleanser.

A fun one, though. Playing the parents, Lana Parrilla and Carlos Gomez fuel the engine of this sly domestic comedy, and Isabella Gomez and Nico Greetham generatie plenty of yuks of their own. Santino Jimenez also has some scene-stealing moments as Pedro, a floral deliveryman whose English-speaking skills – or lack thereof – give Parilla's matriarch the opportunity to make an ass of herself. This is the first scene, and it drops us right into the guts of our tale.

Ilana (Parrilla), you see, is the daughter of Spanish-speaking parents but does not speak a word of the language herself. She’s the American dream personified, the owner a successful PR agency and yet she acts like an idiot in front of “Latino workers,” AKA anybody who only speaks Spanish, particularly delivery people or waiters. Her husband, Enrique, (Carlos Gomez) is proudly Latino, but his roots are Cuban and Spanish. He and his daughter can speak Spanish together (to Ilana’s considerable consternation), but Yoli (Isabella Gomez) also calls him a “colonizer.” The family is wealthy. Their home, tastefully decorated with a lot of soft buttery looking wood by Tanya Orellana, is beautiful.

Yoli, from whom her parents expect great things, has recently graduated from college and is as much her own person as a 22-year-old influencer can be. She gets on her parents’ case over the need to be more evolved and communicate better. Then there’s the matter of this gentleman caller coming over for a nice dinner of upscale enchiladas. Marcos is, we come to learn, a "serious boyfriend," which  to Enrique’s mind means that certain respect must be paid and fear must be instilled.

The man who walks in the door (Greetham) grew up in Mexico, speaks perfect Spanish, has a steady job working for the Dodgers and is clearly crazy about Yoli. But there’s a problem. Or rather an issue that forces this family that likes things to run smoothly to undergo a few difficult conversations before everyone can dig into those enchiladas.

Adaptation will have to happen and Carlos Gomez’s Enrique is the character who will have to make the biggest change. Simultaneously embracing and sending up his patriarchal sternness, Gomez connects and clashes with every person he encounters. He’s a riot.  

Parrilla’s role is equally showy, and the actress is clearly enjoying the hell out of the experience. As she tries to be an evolved mother who wants to be close to her daughter and hear about absolutely everything, Ilana is also experiencing the effects of menopause and trying to keep up appearances. “We are nice normal people!” she barks. The evidence would suggest otherwise, but that’s what makes comedy.

Isabella Gomez has charisma aplenty as the sharp-tongued ingenue and Greetham’s Marcos – slick sensitivity personified – knows just the buttons to depress. Senior helms the production with an eye toward pacing and to cashing in on the sweetness. Her produciton is an easy sit. 

In between people acting like lunatics, ONE OF THE GOOD ONES seems to want to tunnel a little deeper into issues of assimilation and privilege, but that's not a heavy agenda. Whatever their problems, these people are going to come out OK. Well, maybe not so much the pinata. 

ONE OF THE GOOD ONES plays through April 7 at 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena.

Photo of Lana Parrilla, Carlos Gomez and Isabella Gomez by Jeff Lorch