Lana Parrilla leads “One of the Good Ones”, a sitcom on steroids from “One Day at a Time ”reboot creator Gloria Calderon Kellett

EW reviews the new play at the Pasadena Playhouse.

With her reboot of One Day at a Time, Gloria Calderón Kellett became a household name employing the Norman Lear touch, but with her new play, One of the Good Ones, she enshrines herself as the heir apparent to his legacy.

The play, now making its world premiere at Pasadena Playhouse, follows a wealthy Latine family preparing to meet their daughter’s “very serious” boyfriend for the first time. Mom, Ilana (Once Upon a Time’s Lana Parrilla), who is half Mexican, half Puerto Rican, wrestles with guilt over not being “Latina” enough, while dad Enrique (Carlos Gomez) doesn’t appreciate his daughter’s new commitment to political discourse. But things go off the rails when Yoli (One Day at a Time’s Isabella Gomez) brings home Marcos (Nico Greetham), a white boy, born and raised in Mexico.

<p>Jeff Lorch</p> The cast of 'One of the Good Ones'

Jeff Lorch

The cast of 'One of the Good Ones'

Kellett writes with her usual blend of humor, cultural specificity, and acknowledgment of real-world issues. The approach, showcased by Lear on his hit shows like All In the Family, allows audiences to engage with today’s most pressing concerns through laughter. That is certainly the thrust of Kellett’s play — Yoli pushes her parents to examine their parenting, questions their understanding of identity, and generally raises their hackles with her Gen Z approach to life.

They love her, but they don’t want to hear about what they could have done better as parents or that Enrique’s Cuban roots make him a descendant of “white colonizers.” But Ilana and Enrique have no choice but to confront these more difficult questions of identity when Marcos is thrown into their orbit.

Who has the right to call themselves Mexican? Ilana, as the ancestor of both the Tongva peoples and Spanish rancheros who lived in California when it was still part of Mexico, but who doesn't speak Spanish? Or Marcos, who is whiter than an eggshell, but speaks fluent Spanish and has a Mexican passport thanks to his dual citizenship?

This question ignites a heated conservation as Marcos and Yoli push Enrique and Ilana to examine their prejudices and how they define the Latine population (for good measure, there’s also a key exchange around the use of Latinx/a/o/e). While Enrique probes the notion of American “melting pot," he ponders whether or not all that melting has led to some degree of erasure. It’s an age-old question of what is lost and what is gained with assimilation, presented with a new, hip vocabulary and heaps of one-liners, as well as a useful salad metaphor.

<p>Jeff Lorch</p> Isabella Gomez and Lana Parrilla in 'One of the Good Ones'

Jeff Lorch

Isabella Gomez and Lana Parrilla in 'One of the Good Ones'

The moments where the play digs into these questions are its best, drilling down with humor and heart on topics with no easy answers. But Kellett tries to fit an entire season’s worth of a sitcom's plot in 90 minutes. It would be more than enough to focus solely on this question of identity, but the play also brings in intergenerational trauma, the role of therapy, and even finds room to take a dig at influencer culture without ever returning to the topic despite it being Yoli’s supposed job.

Throughout the play, Ilana and Yoli remind Enrique to take deep breaths before he loses his cool — but the text could have used some breathing room as well, instead of trying to pack every facet of the generational divide and two major plot twists into its brief running time. One could easily imagine how these story threads would have built and evolved over a 10 or 22-episode season, but they don’t all belong here.

Still, that’s not to say that One of the Good Ones isn’t a hell of a lot of fun. The play is anchored by four strong performances from its cast. Parrilla, who is half-Italian, half-Puerto Rican, is all flustered earnestness, a woman who wants to embrace her identity, but also feels pinned down by her guilt and discomfort with difficult conversations. As her foil, Carlos Gomez is all paternal machismo, but he deftly nails the depths of Enrique’s vulnerabilities and love for his family under his bluster.

Isabella Gomez walks a tightrope with her take on Yoli, making her both endearing and well-intentioned, while also capturing Gen Z’s naivety and irritating tendency to morph any conversation into a platform for debate and the failings of those who came before them. However, Gomez is sometimes guilty of telegraphing a moment, rather than feeling entirely natural in her choices.

While this play is about the family at its heart, it’s Greetham who steals the show as Marcos, a well-meaning suitor who can’t seem to stop digging the hole he’s put himself in. He’s self-effacing and confident in equal measure, able to assert his beliefs while also milking the comedy of his fish-out-of-water situation. His sense of comedic timing is pitch perfect.

<p>Jeff Lorch</p> The cast of 'One of the Good Ones'

Jeff Lorch

The cast of 'One of the Good Ones'

Kimberly Senior’s direction also allows Kellett’s writing to sing, creating a comedic symphony out of her staging and careful timing. The play zings with sitcom energy, pratfalls, physical bits, and double takes fueling the comedy as much as the sharp script. Tanya Orellana’s set design works hand-in-hand with Senior’s direction, providing an impeccable California home with intriguing levels for the action to play out on.

One of the Good Ones is the type of writing both theater and television could use more of — genuinely funny, topical, and heartfelt without feeling preachy or overly sentimental. As Hollywood and Broadway try to find their footing in the midst of great cultural change, we’d suggest they look to forces like Kellett to help show them the way. Grade: B+

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