Stage Review: ‘The Assembled Parties’
TANNER STRANSKY, Entertainment Weekly
Richard Greenberg delighted and surprised Broadway in 2003 with his Tony-winning Take Me Out, an edgy play plotted around a Major League baseball player coming out of the closet. The playwright's latest effort, the Manhattan Theatre Club's The Assembled Parties, doesn't quite rock the genre in the same way — it's a talk-heavy New York City drama concerning the power of familial bonds. But Parties feels at home on Broadway, gets a lot of laughs (as well as some tears), and it's as close to bullet-proof as they come on the Great White Way these days. (It's also a vastly more successful play than Greenberg's recent adaptation ofBreakfast at Tiffany's.)
Parties begins on Christmas Day in 1980 in a huge Upper West Side apartment, where former movie star Julie Bascov (A View From the Bridge's Jessica Hecht) brings her extended Jewish family together, including her prickly sister-in-law, Faye (Other Desert Cities' Judith Light) and even her grown son's college buddy (Clybourne Park's Jeremy Shamos). Cue a lot of clucking, kvetching, and stewing. There isn't much in the way of plot — it's hard to see where the play is going from moment to moment. But the show's freewheeling nature makes it exciting, real, and unpredictable. The focus shifts from the family's Christmas Day festivities to Faye's pill popping to an heirloom ruby necklace that seems to be at the center of some family tension. The show's second act takes place in the same space — but 20 years later, when the family has endured death and aging and more death.
The beauty of Greenberg's play lies in its richness. The playwright captures the particulars of how a New York family lives and loves through the years, with special attention to the subtle differences between 1980 and 2000 (a corded phone becomes cordless!). Director Lynne Meadow's production is greatly enhanced by Santo Loquasto's turntable set, a wonder in all its intricate details. And Meadow has assembled a first-rate cast that feels as familiar and complicated as any real-life clan. As an added bonus, you may be left with an overwhelming urge to call your mother. A–