- Courtesy Photo
- On the case: From left, Helen Shumaker, Catherine Castellanos and Lol Levy appear in “The Right Thing,” a world premiere by AJ Baker.
Two-thirds of the way into “The Right Thing,” I felt a twitch of impatience: Would I be able to sustain interest in the outcome of the mediation process around which this 90-minute, nonstop-talky drama is structured?
Or would I ultimately fail to care about the fate of high-powered CEO Zell Gardner, fired for sexual harassment?
Credit playwright AJ Baker, powerhouse actor Catherine Castellanos as the train wreck of a central character and the rest of the able cast, plus director Suze M. Allen, with keeping me tuned in throughout.
Also credit the audacity of brand-new 3Girls Theatre Company (founded by Baker, Allen and playwright Lee Brady) for hitting the ground running with this smart world premiere, plus another main stage production and several weeks of staged readings.
The professional company aims to provide opportunities for female playwrights. Good enough.
“The Right Thing” takes place on one exhausting day, during which despairing, boozing Zell is struggling for survival. She’s broke and suddenly unemployed, her career’s in a shambles, her married lover (who’s the chief financial officer) isn’t taking her calls, her best friend is barely speaking to her and she’s been betrayed by her beloved goddaughter.
Now she’s locked in negotiations with corporate honchos: the manipulative interim CEO (a believably sleazy Lol Levy) and Zell’s erstwhile co-worker friend (John Flanagan, a good actor in a disappointingly small role).
Zell’s high-strung attorney (an excellent Louis Parnell) advises her against taking her case to trial. The jury would hate her, he points out. She’s among the 1 percent; she may indeed have sexually harassed a teenage girl employee, portrayed with just the right degree of adolescent rage by Karina Wolfe.
The retired judge who is mediating (Helen Shumaker) is a sympathetic presence, but Zell herself appears to be her own worst enemy, leaving behind her a trail of bad judgment calls and misdeeds. Yet, as she wails, “If I were a man, no one would think twice about this.”
It’s an intriguing tale of high-level greed, ruthlessness and moral bankruptcy that keeps us guessing, as new allegations and secrets are gradually revealed, and iffy new strategies plotted.
Don’t expect a tidy ending, although Baker tries to inject an upbeat final note, which feels a bit lame.
Despite a few technical missteps — pointless video projections, a haltingly slow opening, the loud clomping of actors’ hard-soled shoes on the hollow wooden, three-level stage platform — 3Girls is off to a fine start.
The Right Thing Presented by 3Girls Theatre Company
Where: Thick House, 1695 18th St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays; closes April 1
Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.com, www.3girlstheatre.org