Richard Greenberg’s ‘The Assembled Parties’ Opens on Broadway: REVIEW
BY NAVEEN KUMAR
A finely tuned and resonant drama written with impeccable wit, Richard Greenberg’s new play The Assembled Parties, which opened on Broadway last Wednesday in a Manhattan Theatre Club production at the Friedman Theatre, manages to meaningfully encompass mortality, ambition, legacy, and the hidden nature of love—and that’s only in the first ten minutes.
Set in a labyrinthian Central Park West apartment (beautifully designed by Santo Loquasto), the play follows the lives of an upper crust Jewish family across a twenty-year span, with the first act set on Christmas day in 1980, and the second on the same day in 2000.
When the play opens, a handsome young middle-aged couple, Julie and Ben Boscov (Jessica Hecht and Jonathan Walker) are hosting Christmas dinner—though all of the assembled parties are in fact, Jewish. Scotty (Jake Silbermann), their oldest son and family golden boy, has deferred admission to Harvard Law, derailing their idea that he’s destined for greatness.
Scotty’s friend and former classmate Jeff (Jeremy Shamos), who accepted his own admission and just completed his first semester, joins the family for dinner. Rapt by their posh sophistication, he makes a concerted effort to insinuate himself with Scotty’s parents, and Julie in particular.
Ben’s wry sister Faye (Judith Light) arrives with her husband Mort (Mark Blum), and their awkward 30-year-old daughter Shelley (Lauren Blumenfeld). Though their mother made her life miserable after Faye’s unplanned pregnancy with Shelley and shotgun wedding to Mort, Faye urges Ben to visit her in the hospital as she lingers on her deathbed.
Details about each intricately drawn character unfold strategically through the play’s end, even for those who don’t return twenty years later for its second act. The entire cast is top notch, though ultimately the evening belongs to Jessica Hecht and Judith Light, whose skills with language and emotional nuance are truly marvelous.
Greenberg contextualizes his domestic portrait within broader historical patterns, with each act set during election years that marked the beginning of two double-term Republican presidencies (Reagan in the first, and Bush Jr. in the second). Both years also mark a naïve sort of calm before New York was thrust into the center of landmark national crises—the height of the urban AIDS crises, and the events of September 2001.
Our knowledge of what’s to come casts subtle shadows over the insular world of the play, as the classic mores of drawing room drama are carefully placed within a contemporary American framework. Greenberg’s New York is at once timeless and mythical, and decaying brick and mortar. Had Edith Wharton been a post-war Jewess, she couldn’t have written it better herself.
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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)