The customer is always right. Even when they’re wrong. So goes the logic of the service industry, a labor market whose sole purpose is to chew up disposable, well-meaning persons of all ages (though not of all income brackets) and turn them into places for the wealthy to wipe their shoes and hang their hats. Unsurprisingly it has also been a fertile breeding ground for decades of groundbreaking humor.
Unlike parody, farce hasn’t really been the friend of the working stiff since the days of the Tramp. In the ensuing years the genre has become a vehicle for gently mocking the trivialities of the petty bourgeoisie. Which is just one of the many reasons why the Goodman’s production of Kristoffer Diaz’s “The Upstairs Concierge,” a play that removes the filter from the serving side of customer service, is such a delight.
As the play’s heroine and centrifugal center, Ella Elizondo (Tawny Newsome) is underappreciated, overworked and set up for failure at every conceivable turn. As a woman of color serving privileged and shallow “celebrity” guests, Diaz draws a distinction between young Ella’s saintly countenance and the latest generation of college grads whose self-righteous indignation regarding their unpaid internships is not so much misplaced as it is lacking context. Pointed criticism flies around like a drunkard’s darts though the sharpest insight of all might be that Ella, the only truly courteous person in the play, did not get to be that way by choice but rather by social circumstance thrust on her like swag bags at an after party.
Of course, Diaz’s play is quick to demonstrate that greed and selfishness are not bound by skin color. Nor is talent, which this play has the way certain luxury lodgings have bedbugs. Were the circumstances slightly different, one could imagine director KJ Sanchez and her movement team (Gabriel Ruiz and Chuck Coyl) using this limber cast to literally move heaven and earth, though I expect that what they do here would still be more entertaining by comparison. A lean, breathless eighty minutes of word play, visual gags and lots and lots of stairs, “The Upstairs Concierge” is liable to bring anyone with a heart condition—or hell, a pulse—to their knees in fits of unrestrained laughter. (Kevin Greene)
Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn, (312)443-3800, goodmantheatre.org, $10-$40. Through April 26.