By Richard Greenberg.
Directed by Cody Estle.
At Raven Theatre, Chicago.
“You would love the apartment, mom — it’s like the sets of those plays you love. With the ‘breezy dialogue.’ ” – Jeff
Old fashion drawing room comedy of manners engages on an impressive set with fine performances.
Richard Greenberg’s (Take Me Out, Three Days of Rain and The Violet Hour) 2013 play The Assembled Parties is partly an old fashion drawing room comedy of manners with smart quips and stinging one-liners and part character stretch featuring two dominant matriarchs. This often funny charmer follows a non-religious Jewish family, the Bascov clan, during their two Christmas Day celebrations (1980 & 2000) as the family comes for dinner and drinks at the Bascov’s sprawling upper west side 14 room apartment (terrific set deign by Jeffrey D. Kmiec).
After we meet the extended family, we are impressed by Jeff (Christopher Peltier), the friend of Scotty (Niko Koutis0 the prodigal son and the Boscov’s hopeful future success. Early on we see Jeff falling for Julie (Loretta Rezos) the charming, optimistic grand lady of the house. She ekes grace as the former teen movie star and wife to Ben (Joe Mack), the wound-too-tight businessman. the parents grill Jeff as to what their son is doing and about his possible involvement with his girlfriend.
When Ben’s sister Faye (the terrific JoAnn Montemurro) arrives with her mean-spirited husband Mort (Chuck Spencer), we experience Faye’s several stream-of-conscious speeches filled with bittersweet, Yiddish infused, quips and one-liners. Montemurro’s performer is hilarious with her razor-sharp timing. These early scenes cover the backstory of these characters including some family secrets. This work deftly conveys how a family deals with loss and change over time. Act one is filled with hope.
Act two, now in 2000, twenty years later deals with major changes to the family as death of Scotty and husbands and change of fortunes affect Julie, Jeff and Faye. We also see Tim (Niko Kourtis) as an adult. The tone here moves from a drawing room comedy to a drama as Jeff arrives to celebrate Christmas Day after living for years in Chicago. The apartment is in disrepair as the Boscov fortune shrinks. Julie, ever the optimist and gracious host, has a fine dinner prepared for Jeff, her son Tim and Faye, her sister-in-law for whom Julies has always liked. The effects of time, the result of secrets coming out over the years has surly affected this family. Time has not always been a friend to this family. Over time, hopes dwindle and fate can be cruel.
Despite early old fashion drawing room structure laced with comedy, Greenberg develops unique characters centering on the two strong ladies–Julie as the charming graceful matriarch and Faye as the cynical realist with bittersweet life views. He weaves an engaging family saga that echos change and loss over time. The dialogue is smart, often cynically funny, the characters interesting and the work effectively presents a family over time coping challenges.
This is a well acted and smartly directed work by Cody Estle that features terrific performance by the two grand dames: Loretta Rezos as Julies and JoAnn Montemurro as Faye.These two opposites like one another and anchor the work effectively.
The Assembled Parties delivers more than a comedy of manners as Greenberg weaves a fine family sage worth seeing.
Date Reviewed: January 31, 2017.
For more info see The Assembled Parties page at theatreinchicago.com
At Raven Theate, 6157 N.Clark, Chicago, IL, call 773-338-2177, www.raventheatre.com, tickets $46 ($43 if purchases inline), seniors/teachers $41, students $22, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours,35 minutes with intermission, through March 25, 2017.