Thursday, July 30, 2015





By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

Well, no wonder Judith Light won the Tony for Best Featured Actress. The only question is why Jessica Hecht, co-star of The Assembled Parties, didn’t win, too.  

Catching up belatedly with Richard Greenberg’s moving and entertaining play (the production has been extended yet again), I found myself all teary by the end. Because I never read reviews in advance of a play I plan to write about, this weeping surprised me since I’m neither a big crier nor partial to family drama. But Greenberg has the knack of creating richly understood characters who have interesting things to say and interesting language to say them with. These people’s conversation is peppered with words like “ambrosial” and “ignominious” and “disingenuous.”  And although The Assembled Parties is unlike Greenberg’s best known drama, Take Me Out—a play about manhood and baseball and racism and homophobia—it shares with that earlier play a refusal to wait around for us to get it; Greenberg assumes the audience is smart enough to keep up.  He also assumes we’re grown-up enough to get its hard, funny truths: “A cheerful nature is a ruthless thing,” as one character tells us.  Lynne Meadow’s vigorous direction keeps the tempo both cheerful and ruthless, never bogging down in schmaltziness.

The two acts are separated by twenty years, 1980 and 2000. Rich secular New York Jews celebrate Christmas dinner in a fourteen-room apartment on Central Park West (stunning set by Santo Loquasto); some of the family’s history happens before our eyes and some in the intervening decades.

Our hostess, Julie (Hecht) whose mannered rhythmic speaking style and haute cuisine cooking make her a puzzling quantity until we get to know her; by Act Two, it’s as though she’s family. Her relationship with her eye-mopping sister-in-law Faye (Light, looking old and matronly and like nothing you’ve seen of her glamour on television) is the heart of the play. Two intelligent, generous-spirited and intuitive women, weather all kinds of tsurous from their “inordinately feckless” children and manipulative husbands.  Agonizing over never-to-be-forgotten-or-forgiven resentments, Faye wittily, sadly observes about her own mother, “The sense of neglect is the last to go.” 

Our guide through these complex relationships and complicated pasts is middle-class Jeff (Jeremy Shamos), a law student at Harvard and friend of Scotty (Jake Silbermann), the scion of this family who is expected to have a “dazzling future,” perhaps the first Jewish president.  Jeff grows up to be both steadfast and honest, steadying the drama down, asking the questions  we need the answers to, temperamentally disinclined to the high intensity of the family. 

The script is enriched by gorgeous monologues; especially fine is Faye’s as she tells the wonderful story about a ruby necklace, and another is Julie’s recalling the genius of her mother’s sewing: haute couture clothes to make anyone look “voluptuous” (the superb costumes were designed by Jane Greenwood).  That Julie is wearing one of the magnificent vintage dresses as she talks (how does she manage to look both ethereal and voluptuous simultaneously?) gives the play’s conclusion a poignancy that refuses every temptation to sentimentality but misses no occasion to move us.


At the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W 47th Street, NY

Through July 28. Tickets: $67-137  Telecharge: 1-800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200;

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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