Miranda Rose Hall’s “The Kind Ones” premiered Feb. 2 at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre, an organization “dedicated to the cultivation of bold new plays, playwrights, and audiences.” While “The Kind Ones” may have checked the “bold” box among other successes, the play admittedly fumbles its character development and frays a lot of loose ends by its conclusion. Despite building a strong start off of a strong premise and being supported throughout by remarkable acting, the play would have benefited from smoother plot progression.
Tucked away on a small, secluded farm in rural Montana, “The Kind Ones” features two characters, some pigs and lots of heavy themes and big questions. Haunted by domestic abuse and the violent act she had to commit to escape it, a toughened and healing Nellie (Anne Darragh) is forced to revisit the traumas of her past when a stranger visits her farm with a dangerous proposal.
This stranger is Fitz (Kian Johnson), the millennial son of her former lawyer, and his proposal involves using Nellie’s pigs as a means to protect and seek justice for women backed into the same corner that Nellie once was. It’s a compelling idea diluted by execution.
There’s tension, both before and after Nellie’s acceptance of this questionable endeavor; the characters and audience alike question the situation’s morality, and while the characters allow themselves to proceed with the conclusion that they are making a positive, necessary difference in an unjust world, the audience struggles to follow them so eagerly. This isn’t because of the obvious moral gray area, of which the play is very aware. Rather, it is hard to understand why Fitz is such an avid proponent of his extreme idea.
The audience gets the sense that he lacks a sense of purpose in life, which seems to be what he decides would give him direction, but it’s a jarring jump — at this moment, the play loses the green, squeamish, relatable Fitz it introduces and instead, turns him into a plot-pushing vehicle deaf to reason. Fitz’s shifting values and motivations struggle to feel effectively natural enough, and the disconnect deepens as the play progresses.
Another detail that works against itself is the fact that Fitz is a transgender man. The transgender representation the play creates is appreciated, and for a while, it seemed as though Fitz’s trans identity would not have played a major part in the story. Had this been the case, “The Kind Ones” would have casually had a trans character in a story that isn’t about being trans, helping normalize the existence of trans characters without having to justify their presence — trans people are more than their gender, after all.
Unfortunately, in a heated argument with Nellie, Fitz explains his motivations by saying, “I know what it feels like to be a woman in this world, and I’ve got the opportunity to be a different kind of man.” This line is a letdown; it seems to imply that Fitz needs more reason to care about women outside of his own goodness, and that this unnecessary logic is what really resulted in this valuable representation.
“The Kind Ones” may be a bit rough around the edges, but it’s certainly not without merit. Johnson’s acting brings plenty of authenticity to his character, ensuring that Fitz, though confusing, is very likable. Darragh’s performance as Nellie is also outstanding — the actress nails balancing Nellie’s hardened exterior with her traumatized interior, evoking empathy and occasional laughter from the audience with ease.
And despite the narrative’s shortcomings when it comes to plot, Hall’s dialogue is genuine, hilarious and clever. The characters’ personalities are revealed effectively through conversation, and watching these two incredibly different individuals try to understand each other is informative and the most entertaining aspect of the play.
Although Miranda Rose Hall’s “The Kind Ones” at Magic Theatre is not seamless enough to balance its dense themes, it tells a commendably bold story bolstered by impressive performances.