The Assembled Parties

The Assembled Parties is a new play written by Richard Greenberg currently playing at the Samuel Friedman Theatre. It follows the lives of a wealthy Jewish family living in a 14-room apartment right off Central Park. Act I takes place Christmas Day in 1980, and Act II is exactly 20 years later. We learn about the whole family, but the primary focus is on Julie (Jessica Hecht), her sister-in-law, Faye (Judith Light), and her son’s best friend, Jeff (Jeremy Shamos).

I came to the theatre that night with very high expectations. The reviews were all extremely positive, it received three Tony nominations, and as always, I was excited to see a new play. But the evening was lukewarm for me. For two and a half hours, I kept waiting for something to happen. After a first act full of exposition and character setup, I was sure that shit would finally hit the fan (as shit is wont to do), particularly in the second act of a modern-day family drama. August: Osage County anyone? [coming soon to a movie theatre near you]. Instead, it was a steady simmer all night. Don’t get me wrong, I was invested in the characters, and the majority of the acting was first-rate, but the takeaway still left me feeling unfulfilled.

It wasn’t until the final moments of the piece that I realized I was watching a contemporary Chekhov piece. The last image specifically struck me because it mirrors the last image of Three Sisters to a tee. For those of you who don’t know Anton Chekhov’s work, he is most famous for plays such as The Seagull, Three Sisters, and Uncle Vanya. Why did this play remind me of Russian plays from the late 1800s you ask? Because it’s a group of people sitting around a living room (or one of the other 13 rooms) talking about their lives. They are frustrated with the present and longing for a better future. Chekhov’s plays did not focus on “action,” nor does Greenberg’s play.

The actors in the three major roles were excellent, as expected. Judith Light, nominated for her performance, is, as always, a wonder. Her delivery is consistently dead-on, with dialogue packed with one-lined zingers (“Republican Jews? That’s like saying a skinny fat person.”). Jeremy I love. I only found out about him last season in his Tony-nominated performance in Clybourne Park. His work is subtle, simple, and ever-present. Jessica Hecht, of whom I am typically not a fan, was wonderful. Since her days as Susan on Friends, she has always made me feel uneasy, but I cannot say enough good things about her in this role. She was perfectly cast and extremely generous on stage. I’m surprised she was not recognized by the Tony committee.

I have been trying to develop a closing thought for a while now, but I find myself coming up blank. This sense of being unsettled is very similar to how I felt leaving the show that night. I suppose the question is: would I recommend this play? I think I would if you’re interested in seeing good acting. There are some wonderful charming moments, and it’s always a pleasure to see good actors do what they do best.

The Assembled Parties
Written by Richard Greenberg, Directed by Lynne Meadow
Manhattan Theatre Club
Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich
Pictured: Judith Light, Jessica Hecht, and the Cast of The Assembled Parties

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