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Theater of the Absurd

Can real estate inspire great art?


Why aren’t more New York plays about apartments, rather than set in them? Real estate—not having it, obtaining it, hanging onto it—incites our most plaintive hopes and darkest insecurities. It is, in short, the material of drama, literally so in The Right Kind of People (pictured), Charles Grodin’s new one-act at Primary Stages. Set in a Fifth Avenue co-op, the play is built around a stuffy board, rife with elitism and prejudice, that’s challenged by an opposition slate. It’s fertile enough material, but it’s limited to a tiny, mythic slice of New York where it’s hard to feel sympathy for anyone. The epicenter of real-estate anxiety is not along Fifth Avenue but over on, say, Second, where a successful family with a million bucks (!) can barely get started.

Such socially accepted insanity should entice any smart playwright, especially because dramatists (those who aren’t Neil Simon, at least) are from the creative class that is getting crunched out of town. Yet that panic hasn’t made it to Broadway, perhaps because writers know their theatergoing audience: elderly, well-off, and prone to see rising prices as a boon instead of a threat to their way of life. But here’s a prediction that a few years from now we’ll see a crop of dramas about housing, as the seeds nurtured by the boom bear fruit. The next generation’s Rent will almost certainly be set far beyond Avenue Q, with Mimi stuck in Jersey City.

Nor should the drama of the bidding war be restricted to the stage. Movies have failed this rich subject (see—or, rather, don’t—Duplex), as have TV shows (ABC’s defunct Hot Properties). The great real-estate TV show is still waiting to be made, and all a producer needs to do is rip off Project Runway. Brokers would face crazy challenges and impossible clients, all for the chance to be the exclusive seller (or owner) of a luxury apartment. Consider the pleasure in watching an agent sweet-talk buyers one second, then bellow at her competitors the next. Would any New Yorker be able to resist realty reality?


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