The Richard Greenberg prolific writing factory has been working overtime this season. With mixed results. His adaptation of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S has prematurely closed. His book for the new musical FAR FROM HEAVEN hasn’t opened yet and so we wait with baited breath. And on the boards at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (forever the old Biltmore for me) is THE ASSEMBLED PARTIES a Manhattan Theatre Club production – a mellow yet sometimes very funny Jewish family slice of life comedy with somewhat sad overtones where some things are a bit too convenient to be believable and many loose ends remain on the loose.
The first act occurs at a 1980 Christmas dinner party in the sprawling fourteen room apartment of the Bascovs on the Upper West Side of Manhattan – at first viewed as an oversized black and white photograph prior to the start of the show.
And then the large apartment comes to vivid life as we view various scenes in various rooms as the intricate set of Santo Loquasto revolves on its turntable enabling us to see how the various characters can sometime s get lost in the hallways unable to find their way.
And that perhaps can also be said of Mr. Greenberg. Act II takes place again at a Christmas dinner twenty years later in the living room of the same apartment and has a decidedly different tone than Act I although there are still lots of laughs.
THE ASSEMBLED PARTIES is an old fashioned play. And that’s a good thing. Reminiscent of prime Neil Simon with a bit of O’Henry thrown in with a saga about a ruby necklace that helps the limping plot along in the second act.
Mr. Greenberg is smart and extremely clever with words with a facility to provide many quotable quips and so he has populated his play with smart and clever characters – especially the women – who can deliver his many quotable quips with a deft touch.
He as well as we are indeed fortunate that a smooth Jessica Hecht is Julie Bascov “ruthless and strong” a once teenage actress of some renown who has a charming way of putting down others, sometimes being brutally honest and the always brilliant Judith Light is her kvetching, non political (Ha!) and opinionated sister-in-law Faye. What a pair of aces they are. And Lauren Blumenfeld as Mort (Mark Blum) and Faye’s daughter Shelley – a misfit of sorts – holds her own up there with these pros. Her second act speaker phone call is tops.
As the only non blood relative who has been invited to attend the festivities by his college buddy Scotty (Jake Silbermann) the older son of Julie and Ben (Jonathan Walker) Jeremy Shamos as Jeff – looking to wrangle himself into the family is excellent. In Act II when most of the men have died off he attempts to reconcile the differences between Julie and her younger son Tim (Alex Dreier) who is now grown and played by Mr. Silbermann. There are too many plot contrivances – those pesky loose ends – that simply do not pay off.
But THE ASSEMBLED PARTIES directed with finesse by Lynne Meadow is honest and real and full of surprises with Jewish expressions peppered throughout where everything seems to be right but isn’t and never fully explained.
Through June 2nd.
www.ManhattanTheatreClub.com Photos: Joan Marcus
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