Friday, April 26, 2013

Theater Review: The Assembled Parties

The Parties Assemble, but Don't Do Much Else
By Lauren Yarger
I am not a fan of plays that make me work. I want to go to the theater and be entertained or thoroughly swept into the action/emotions on stage. I don't like trying to figure out who everyone is, why they are on the stage and why I should care. I also don't like feeling that  am the only reviewer not in love with what they are seeing, but most of those thoughts were my reaction to Richard Greenberg's new play The Assembled Parties getting a run on Broadway by Manhattan Theatre Club.

It stars Judith Light, one of my favorite actresses, who doesn't disappoint. She's wise-cracking, New-York Jewish-accented Faye, a member of an odd upper west side family that's the standard of most plays -- dysfunctional. She's the wife of Mort (Mark Blum), the man she was forced to marry when she got pregnant with their now grown and totally unambitious daughter, Shelley (Lauren Blumfield). Everyone either tolerates or appears not to like everyone else.

They come to visit her brother, Ben (Jonathan Walker) and his wife, Julie (Jessica Hecht) on Christmas Day, 1980 at their 14-room apartment (why Jews are celebrating Christmas isn't quite clear). Ben and Julie's young son,Timmy (Alex Dreier), is abed with a cold while older son,  Scotty (Jake Silbermann), has invited college friend Jeff (Jeremy Shamos) home for the holiday.

Julie, a former movie star, and speaking in some sort of voice that sounds like she's still tying to sound like a character, is a throw back to more elegant, less concerned times, and Jeff is clearly smitten. Faye is concerned about her 87-year-old mother who is failing and whom Ben refuses to visit in the nursing home. Suddenly there's some intrigue involving a family necklace and blackmail. But only a little -- and never fully explained.....

Fast forward 20 years to Christmas 2000. The husbands are dead, Faye surprises herself by actually missing Mort and Jeff, who still cares for Julie, tries to convince young Tim, now grown (and also played by Silberman), to spend more time with his mother, whose health is failing. So is her bank account. Her protected view of the world doesn't comprehend the cost of continuing to rent the Central Park West property, which is falling into disrepair, but Jeff and Faye step in to keep her comfortable and enable her to remain in her own gentler world, which includes wearing her mother's vintage dresses (Jane Greenwood designs the lovely costumes).

All of that action (and I uses that term generously) takes place on a revolving set (designed by Santo Loquasto) which cleverly shows us family members conversing in one room while other members go about their business, or overhear conversations by other members. Lynne Meadow directs.

In all fairness, most of the comments I heard from critics and audience members included the words "moving," "touching," "funny." I felt I must have missed something, because I wouldn't have used any of those terms to describe this work by Greenberg (Breakfast at Tiffany's; Take Me Out).

A woman saying her husband is "just the most wretched man who ever drew breath" got big laughs. To me it was just sad.

The parties are assembled (really don't like that title), but that's about it. For some reason, these folks just didn't click for me.

The Assembled Parties has been extended twice, through July 7, at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th St., NYC. Tickets and info: http://www.manhattantheaterclub.org/

Christians might also like to know:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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