Sad and heartfelt family story spanning decades
|Raven Theatre presents|
|The Assembled Parties|
Review by Lauren Whalen
There’s nothing I love more than a sprawling story of an erudite, neurotic New York family. Bonus points if said story takes place in an equally sprawling, gorgeous New York apartment. The Assembled Parties has both. Raven Theatre’s Midwest premiere of the 2013 Tony nominee, written by Richard Greenberg of Take Me Out fame, is sprawling, erudite, neurotic and ultimately entertaining. Though a bit lengthy, The Assembled Parties thoroughly captures family life in all its funny tragedy, and has a stunning lead performance by Loretta Rezos in her Raven Theatre debut.
Rezos plays Julie Bascov, the matriarch of a wealthy New York Jewish family with a stunning Upper West Side apartment. Julie acted in movies as a teenager and retains the chatty, beach-party optimism of her youth. On Christmas in 1980, Julie is hosting a dinner for family and friends, including sweet Harvard law student Jeff (Christopher Peltier), the best friend of her older son Scotty (Niko Kourtis). Scotty is taking the year off between college and law school and has just returned from a trip to Rwanda, much to the chagrin of his father and Julie’s husband Ben (Joe Mack). Julie plays the happy hostess, unaware of the drama playing out from all sides of the apartment, and still believes that Scotty will be President one day. When the play jumps ahead twenty years later in the same Upper West Side apartment, the Christmas celebration looks very different.
The Bascov’s Upper West Side apartment is a character in and of itself, and set designer and Jeff Award winner Jeffrey D. Kmiec does a beautiful job. Kmiec is no stranger to recreating homes, as evidenced by his work in Raven’s A Loss of Roses last year, and his precise detail and artistic eye are on full display. Though I could have done without the skyline background, I was hooked from the minute I walked into the space, long before a word of dialogue was spoken. Director Cody Estle (who also directed A Loss of Roses) perfectly plays up Greenberg’s nuances and the complexities of the Baskov family and their relationships.
This cast is, for the most part, stellar – only Chuck Spencer, as the Baskov’s scheming brother-in-law, is a weak link. Raven co-founding Artistic Director JoAnn Montemurro is both comical and empathetic as Ben’s long-suffering and wisecracking sister-in-law Faye (the role that won Judith Light a Tony Award in 2013). Marika Mashburn has a brief but memorable turn as Faye’s quirky daughter Shelley, and while his turn as Scotty is a little weak, Kourtis absolutely shines as the older version of Baskov son Timmy. Peltier convincingly ages two decades during the 20-minute intermission, and beautifully executes Jeff’s character arc. And as central character Julie, Rezos is a revelation. Her breezy chatter alternates with wistful moments in an utterly honest way, and her lovable charisma carries the two-and-a-half-hour show.
It’s difficult to summarize The Assembled Parties, as there are many twists and turns. Fortunately, none of them are forced; rather, they seem organic in the course of a family’s history. People die, as do dreams (for others and for oneself). A one-time guest becomes a surrogate relative, and the most unlikely people become guardian angels over time. And sometimes the weirdest relative stays, well, weird. Greenberg’s dialogue and story are almost novel-like, and this script is ripe for a TV or film adaptation. The Assembled Parties is almost old-school in its format: two acts, lots of characters and subplots, and one eternal optimist at the center of it all. Additionally, each act takes place the month before the inauguration of a new President (Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush), and the parallels to our current times are both hilarious and sad. The Assembled Parties is like the best of holiday dinners: rich, warm and – though sometimes challenging – ultimately satisfying.
The Assembled Parties continues through Date at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $46 (seniors: $41, students and military: $22), and are available by phone (773-338-2177) or online through OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at RavenTheatre.com. (Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Dean La Prairie
Niko Kourtis (Scotty, Tim), Joe Mack (Ben), Marika Mashburn (Shelley), JoAnn Montemurro (Faye), Christopher Peltier (Jeff), Loretta Rezos (Julie), Leo Sharkey (Timmy), Chuck Spencer (Mort), Miguel Nunez (Voice of Hector), Lynne Baker, Lorenzo Borzutzky, Brian McKnight, Erin Minervini, Robert Vignisson (understudies)
behind the scenes
Cody Estle (director), Jeffrey D. Kmiec (set design), Theresa Ham (costume design), Nick Belley (lighting design), Eric Backus (priginal music, sound design), John Buranosky (properties,set dressing), Michael Conroy (assistant director), Jason K. Martin (dialect specialist), Stephen Johnson (dramaturg), Miguel Perez (hair, make-up design), Tara Malpass (stage manager), Conor Clark (technical director), Rebecca Cagney (assistant stage manager), Matthew Carl (assistant costume design), Diane D. Fairchild, Marissa Geocaris (master electricians), Nathan Waters (carpenter), Jessica Howe (scenic artist), Shawn Kronk (electrician), Dean La Prairie (photography)