RSS

Tag Archives: Jessica Hecht

The Assembled Parties – Review

Unknown

Anyone who has even suffered the slightest twinge of real estate envy should stay away from the Manhattan Theatre Club’s The Assembled Parties. The play, set in a lavish 14-room apartment on Central Park West (designed by Santo Loquasto) would make even the 1% pea green with envy. This imperfect play by Richard Greenberg takes place in two discreet times periods; 1980 and 2000, on the same day. At times the two acts even feel like two discreet plays. This is not a unique theatrical phenomenon and can work, but it’s a terrific hurdle to clear. Recently, the device was used in Clybourne Park and there wouldn’t have been a play without it. The key to its effectiveness is to create two acts, or time periods of equal force.

The first act is a rapid and rotating collage of a family assembled on Christmas. Christmas could easily be replaced by Thanksgiving or Passover for this Jewish family, as it’s just an excuse to gather and overeat. The curtain rises on Julie (Jessica Hecht) in the kitchen (the size of most living rooms) with her eldest son’s friend Jeff (Jeremy Shamos). Jeff is young and socially out of his league in the presence of the glamorous (former movie actress) Julie. She speaks in a cadence not usually found in nature and is dressed in a jumpsuit created by her mother (a renowned designer.) Julie teases Jeff with obvious affection and Jeff seems on the edge of pinching himself throughout. He is a first-semester Harvard Law student, the son of first generation Jews and he’s spending Christmas at the captain’s table. Julie’s husband Ben (Jonathan Walker) appears and we learn of another (much younger) son who is upstairs with a cold. The set then starts its rotation and the apartment and the family dynamics unfold. We meet Julie and Jeff’s two sons; Scott (Jake Silberman) and Timmy (Alex Dreier). Ben’s sister Faye (Judith Light) arrives with her husband Mort (Mark Blum) and her lumpish daughter Shelley (Lauren Blumenfeld). Director Lynne Meadow has the women characters use pronounced accents & Ms. Blumenfeld’s is beyond enjoyable. Shelley grew up (and stayed) in Roslyn, an unambitious and perhaps intellectually challenged 30-year-old single woman. Her blank face and very low center of gravity is a wonderful counter to the rapid fire speech and movement of her extended family. And the first act does move. Just when we’ve learned something new, the set rotates once again and more story unfolds. Faye is not happy, in that; “I miss Miltown” way. Ms. Light (as we saw in Other Desert Cities) is superb at portraying complicated women entirely at ease with their shortcomings. She is splendid and is given an embarrassment of riches of one-liners with which to work. You could create a fabulous twitter feed out of her zingers (both English and Yiddish) and pronouncements. This is not to suggest that her performance relies upon these quips. Not at all. But one does wonder if Mr. Greenberg wrote these gems with Ms. Light in mind.

That niggling little thought got in my way during the sedate second act. The curtain opens to a non-rotating large living room set that bares no resemblance to the fist set. We spend several moments wondering if the family (what little there is left of it) has moved. The husbands have died and Scotty (who looked a bit flush in the first act) died in 1981. Ms. Light delivers the line that informs us that Scotty died from AIDS; from a blood transfusion in a New York City hospital in 1981. Now it’s possible that if we combed medical records from 1981, this might have actually happened; but it probably would never have ever been identified as such. Scotty had just spent time overseas and could have easily been killed off by a myriad of diseases. That this implausible death was created and spoke of by Ms. Light (a longtime AIDS activist with a famed association with Ryan White) was distracting. There are other distracting theatrical devices that unfold in the second act which weaken the impact of what should be a moving play. One definite asset to the second act is Mr. Silberman; ill at ease as Scotty in the first act he flourishes as grown-up Timmy.

It’s clear in the first act that the character of Timmy is a device. His little boy self, ensconced in Star Wars sheets is ignored by his parents (on Christmas) and his existence is never explained (it’s not customary to have two children 20 years apart.) Yet the other characters or so wonderfully and fully formed. Mr. Greenberg captures the subtleties of middle-class New York Jews so perfectly and to utter delight. There are cultural conflicts and tensions beautifully and delicately rendered. None of these illuminations are delivered in a “The More You Know” public service announcement, but as real and integral dialogue.

There is much to love about The Assembled Parties. The performances alone are worth the very fast 2 1/2 hours.

Advertisements
 
1 Comment

Posted by on April 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A View from the Bridge – Review

Last night I attended a preview of A View from the Bridge at the Court Theatre. This is a limited run (14 week) production directed by Gregory Mosher (Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed the Plow.)  This was my first time with this particular Arthur Miller play.  There is as much back story as there is theatrical story, and I found it all almost too much to absorb.  “Bridge” is often seen as the final “take that” in the demise of the friendship between Elia Kazan and Mr. Miller.  For years after the McCarthy trials, the two spoke only through their art forms.  It is said that Miller expressed his sorrow and rage at Kazan with The Crucible, and Kazan replied with On the Waterfront, that then followed by “Bridge.”  It is very hard to ignore all that when watching this play that centers around codes of honor, betrayal and human frailty.
The play is crafted beautifully and narrated by the attorney, Alfieri (Michael Cristofer.)  Mr. Mosher has directed Cristofer beautifully.  It is no small feat to narrate a drama while playing a character within the play.  His transitions are fluid and his stage presence pulses with an understated power.  The story, as told by Alfieri, is that of a family of first generation Italian-Americans in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  Eddie (Liev Schreiber) and his wife Beatrice (Jessica Hecht) have raised their niece Catherine (Scarlett Johansson.)  Catherine is supposed to be a sheltered seventeen year old with her first exposure to men her own age (illegally) arriving in the form of Beatrice’s cousins (wouldn’t that make them Catherine’s cousins too?) Rodolpho and Marco.  Tragedy unfolds as Eddie finds the budding romantic relationship between Catherine and Rodolpho intolerable.  There is an unwholesomeness to Eddie’s interest in Catherine that colors his entire perspective.  The tragedy that results from a man who loses his conscience while caught up in his misdirected impulses is life altering.
On paper, this is a powerful drama, and I have no doubt that the critics and audiences will find much to wax poetic.  I would tend to agree, with some minor cast changes.  By now you have probably heard of the hasty departure of the original Rodolpho.  Apparently the head injury he received from Liev Schreiber in a fight scene prevents him from returning to work.  This is a shame, as the role is pivotal and the understudy (Morgan Spector) lacks the necessary charisma.  He is physically uncomfortable on the stage and in this role, and he (forgive me) lacks the pretty face that is necessary for this part.  Another little bit of unsurprising miscasting is that of Miss Johansson.  She manages to navigate the stage in a convincing manner, but her age is much too distracting.  It is impossible to believe that a 26 year old is a sheltered 17 year old.  She is not assisted in the least by the costuming (Jane Greenwood) that makes her look even older.  This working class girl of very meager means is put in form fitting color coordinated outfits and bright red lipstick.  She is made to look like a 1950s pin-up, and the result is that she and Liev look perfectly natural together as a couple.  Had Miss Johansson been 10 years younger, and perhaps not spent as much time with a dialogue coach (her attempt at a Brooklyn accent is distracting and inaccurate) I think she could have pulled off the part quite well.  Jessica Hecht is brilliant and luminescent and I want to see her in every American classic play.  She becomes the character Beatrice so completely that even her trademark screen mannerisms disappear. My heart broke for her.  Liev Schreiber is a fine actor, there is no doubt.  I predict that Ben Brantley (sitting the row behind me) will adore the performance, as will The New Yorker.  Me?  I found it overwrought and distracting.  I felt as if I was watching him act for two hours.  I never “felt” anything, and that is a shame.  I wanted to be pulled into his story and empathize with his conflict, for I believe that is what Mr. Miller intended.  However, all I really felt was that Mr. Schreiber was performing a one man show and that the emotional calisthenics he demonstrated did not hint at a fun dinner companion off the stage.
The bones of a lovely production are in place however.  The staging was wonderful, with self contained, restrained moving sets and brilliant fight scenes.  Fight scenes, as we all can attest to, are a horror.  They are not easy to choreograph (Thomas Schall) and certainly not always easy to watch.  These were pitch perfect and utterly convincing (except for one small moment when Mr. Schreiber is careful not to bang Mr. Spector’s head on the table.)  The costume design (save Mr. Schrieber’s “dockwocker dressed by Armani” look, and Ms. Johansson’s pin-up look) are brilliantly on point.  There is one off kilter set construct in the venetian blinds in the Red Hook tenement apartment.  I did very much appreciate the absence of microphones and the smallness of the production, both designed to pull me in.
The audience make-up was interesting enough to warrant mention.  This being previews, there were rows of critics in my section, as well as actors and other such insiders.  What was perhaps more unique, was the large subset of audience members who had seen the original production (1956.)  This made for a very savvy audience (I’d be savvy too, if I’d been going to the theatre for over fifty years!)  The subtlety of the ovation will not be heard again once the show opens.  These insiders gave very enthusiastic applause to the excellent Marco (Matthew Montelongo,)  Ms.Hecht, Mr. Cristofer and Mr. Schreiber, and gave what is known as “polite applause” to Ms. Johansson. 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,