Tuesday November 21st 2017

“The Assembled Parties”

the-assembled-8716Somewhat recommended ** Over the years, I have enjoyed the productions at Raven Theatre. I anticipated tonight’s Midwest premiere of Richard Greenberg’s “The Assembled Parties” as I have found his work to be stimulating and thought- provoking (“Take Me Out” and “Three Days Of Rain” to name two). As I pulled in the parking lot at The Raven, the excitement grew and when I walked into the East stage and saw the amazingly stunning set (Jeffrey D. Kmiec ), I thought this was going to be a special night.

This is where my dilemma comes. The set being fantastic, the playwright being one that I have enjoyed, the director (Cody Estle) who has always done a remarkable job, and then, the story of the Bascov family celebrating “Christmas” on two different Christmas Days, 20 years apart. This is a Jewish family, celebrating a holiday that represents anything but Jewish (tree and all). In the first act, which takes place in  1980, it seems as though Julie (Loretta Rezos shines in both of her portrayals, young and old) may be gentile and has married into a Jewish family. However, in the second act, 2000, they make mention that she is, and has always been Jewish. Confusing? I know there are Jewish families who celebrate the holiday and perhaps a few that do have a tree, but, in Greenberg’s dialogue there is no mention about being Jewish, as well as many “Yiddish” terms used (without explanation), that many audience members found themselves laughing at things that were not even close to being funny. I think they felt Yiddish is always funny.parties2

In many ways this play, which takes two-hours-thirty-minutes, including the 20 plus minutes of intermission, is about “nothing” and yet, if one can dig down deep, they will see a family that is unhappy with their lives. Julie and her husband Ben (Joe Mack does a nice job, but certainly does not appear to be the right match for his tall and stately wife)  have two sons, one in college Scotty (Niko Kourtis) and a younger one Timmy ( Leo Sharkey). On their Christmas, the rest of the immediate family has come for dinner. Ben’s older sister, Faye (JoAnn Monemurro is wonderful in this role and for me was the best played of the characters), her husband, Mort (deftly handled by Chuck Spencer) and their nerdy daughter, Shelley (beautifully portrayed by Marika Mashburn, who has great comic timing). Scotty’s best friend, Jeff (Christopher Peltier) has come for the holiday and finds himself falling in love with his hostess, Julie.

part10In the first act, meeting all of the characters, Greenberg tries to cover a lot and brings up some history that involved the siblings and some jewelry that Ben and Faye’s mother had pledged to Faye, but delivered to Julie. I do not want o give away much of the sub-plots, but will tell you what we hear seems to be a blackmail plan between two brother-in-laws right before the first act and 1980 come to a close. Act two is 20 years later, and now Tim has grown up and is played by Niko Kourtis (a better role for him that that of Scotty). As we learn, during these years, Scotty has passed away as have Ben ( who lost all his money )and Mort, and Shelley has moved away and has had no relationship with Faye. Jeff, is still around. He became a lawyer with a large practice and with investments has done very well financially, if not in other ways. Here he is, taking his place with the Bascov family on yet another Christmas, and on this one, many facts unfurl about the past and the future. Both acts have many references to the presidents of the eras of each and the characters do discuss some of the political agendas of the time. As we are now into the 9th day(is that all it is?) of our own crazy presidency, many chuckles came from he remarks about Reagan in act one and later Bush in act two.party9

While this is not the perfect play and not up to the usual quality of the playwright or the theater company, there are some fine performances and plenty of ideals and a kind of happy ending. Perhaps the shaving of some of the dialogue would make this a tighter and stronger story that would hold the audience’s attention better. I saw many a head nod and lots of yawning. Not a great quality in live theater. The acting was solid, the set amazing (although it might have been more beneficial to have the dining area and the living area reversed to allow better sight lines, as far more action takes place in the living area over the dining). Theresa Ham’s costumes are of the periods represented, John Buranoky’s props and set dressing are amazing and the original music and sound by Eric Backus delightful. The lighting by Nick Belley and the make-up by Miguel Perez (who had to age the actors by 20 years in 20 minutes) magical!

“The Assembled Parties” will continue at The Raven Theatre located at 6157 N. Clark Street (at Granville) through March 25th with performances as follows:

party3Thursdays  7:30 p.m.

Fridays  7:30 p.m.

Saturdays  7:30 p.m.

Sundays  3 p.m.

Tickets range from $43 with discounts for seniors, students teachers and veterans.

To order tickets call the box office at 773-338-2177 or visit www.raventheatre.com

bust stops are at the door (Clark Street  #22 and #36 Broadway) and nearby the #155 Devon, #151 Sheridan and #64 Peterson. The Red Line Granville station is just a few blocks away and there is free parking and metered parking on the streets as well as a lot adjacent to the theater.

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The Assembled Parties”

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