Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Assembled Parties: Home For the Holidays

Amidst family squabbles, a sprawling apartment, and Jewish class issues, Richard Greenberg's  new play, The Assembled Parties, walks a fine line between humorous quips and painful truths.  Maybe a little messy and still finding its footing at the early preview I attended, but the heart of the piece was beating soundly with a great cast to execute his vision.

Scotty Bascov (Jake Silbermann) and Jeff (Jeremy Shamos) are college friends. Scotty, a scion from a wealthy Jewish family, is expected to do great things but is a bit adrift.  He's not quite sure he wants to head to Harvard next year for law school, joining Jeff. Jeff's modest background lines up with his modest expectations for himself.  Scotty's parents, Julie (Jessica Hecht) and Ben (Jonathan Walker), are hosting a Christmas party for their Jewish clan--complete with nutcracker tchotchkes and a roast goose. Ben's sister Faye (Judith Licht), her husband, Mort (Mark Blum) and their 30 year old still unmarried daughter Shelley (Lauren Blumenfeld) complete the party. 20 years pass and another Christmas party is held.  A sadder, more painful affair as time has been unkind to this family.

With issues of immigrant parents, difficult mothers and the children who resent them, success, achievement, sorting out what we want from what our parents want, and how you face endings, Greenberg's play runneth over with rich, emotional material.  Sometimes it felt like it was too much to handle and bits and bobs got lost in the tumult.  Greenberg attempts to play with simultaneous scenes by expanding and reversing time to accommodate the gambit. I "got" it but playing with time did not have extra impact.  In fact, as staged, it was a little confusing.  I wished the intrigue Greenberg layered into the first act to be exposed in the second act had been sharper and I think much of this had to do with the structure of those scenes.

There is a great deal of levity in the first act, with moments feeling almost farcical, but there is a humming of something darker there which gets expanded upon in Act II.  I found Lynne Meadow's direction kept this all in balance.  It was not a problematic tone shift because the groundwork was laid.

The play succeeds or fails with the performances and for me there were some stand-outs here. Judith Light finds a raw inner pain in her character, bearing her wounds valiantly with a dignity that makes the suffering all the more dramatic.  She often makes you forget she's acting.  She brings to life a complete person you feel you know.  Jeremy Shamos is the outsider desperate to be on the inside. His adulation for his friend's mother Julie is somehow hilariously, self-consciously Oedipal even if he's not a blood family relation. His comic, nervous energy as a young man is utterly gone when 20 years pass and he's the voice of reason in household without much sense.  But his affection for Julie is unchanged and with the passage of time, it evolves into something deeper. The small gestures and intonations he makes crafts a very subtle portrait of this now grown man and the events unseen to us that have gone on in the 20 years between acts.

Jessica Hecht started off, as usual, a bit affected in her accent.  It was the same one she employed in Harvey.  In some moments it served the flighty Julie who was a former teen movie starlet and who has seemingly never suffered a day in her life, but I found that her affectation faded as the play went on and I appreciated its departure.

Jake Silbermann does double-duty as two characters, making each distinct from the other.  In particular, his privileged Scotty played well against Shamos's unpolished Jeff. 

One of the more powerful aspects of the show was how the Bascovs' house turns from a place of aspiration to a vast space filled with ghosts, lost promise and delusions.  And it did this with organic subtlety.  The turntable from Act I, keeps moving and revealing "new rooms" in this expansive apartment and everyone keeps joking about getting lost in this epic apartment.  In Act II, the set is fixed and somehow the decay and emptiness of the characters is rendered through the open space, the rooms off in the distance, and the fact that it is stationary. Santo Loquasto did the scenic design. It was such a key presence I would have added it to the roster of stand-out performers.

I'm eager to get back to see this play as the actors have settled into the roles and dig into all the emotional baggage Greenberg's characters have in tow.

I received a complimentary ticket to this production.

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