The Assembled Parties is like a near death experience–your life flashes before you through the characters on the stage. The play centers around two gatherings on Christmas day in the Upper West Side Jewish home of the snappy and witty Bascov family, 20 years apart. As the play opens, Jeff, a new friend of Scott, is visiting the home for the first time. He quickly becomes ingrained in the family’s lives as the play sets the stage for act two. Whereas act one was full of fun and intrigue, act two takes a more somber turn as we discover what 20 years have given to and taken from the characters. Each of them is in a restless, transient place, and Jeff adopts the role of a guardian angel and orchestrates their healing and rest. For Julie and Faye, false understandings bring the most comfort, while for Jeff it is learning the truth of their situations that allows him to do his best work for everyone.
Jeremy Stamos performs expertly as Jeff, whose dynamic personality changes naturally and believably between his conversations with his friend, Scott, Scott’s parents, and other family members. Jeff’s instant connection to Julie sparks in the opening scene with Jeff transitioning quickly from awkward to at ease. Stamos’s entire body believes he is Jeff. In one one-sided phone conversation I was spellbound as he physically and emotionally squirmed to endure and end a typical, uncomfortable conversation with his mother.
Jessica Hecht gives us a truly unique performance (I sensed some of Katherine Hepburn in her laugh and general air). Her portrayal of the former movie star, Julie, gives the entire cast plenty to work with. Julie’s persistent belief in her idealized concept of who each family member is made me feel protective of her just as others in the play did. Hecht’s challenge is to show the depth and variety of Julie’s true feelings bleeding through the cheerful, even-tempered outward persona Julie maintains at all times. She succeeds. I felt Julie’s pain even as she smiled and laughed with those around her. The moments where Hecht shows Julie’s safeguards come down are awe-inspiring.
Judith Light, in her performance of Faye, is the sum of Faye’s entire past, and because of it I wanted to know more of her history. Fortunately the text of the play allowed me to indulge myself. Light’s wonderfully technical performance produces a character whose every grabbing at her collar and whipping of the phone cord is deeply motivated.
Lauren Blumenfeld adds tremendously in her limited time on stage with her amazing comic timing, simple gestures, blank stares, and untimely laughter working perfectly in conjunction with her expressive eyes and terrific smile. Jake Silbermann does a fine job in both his roles but I found that him playing Scott in act one and then his own brother Tim in act two was slightly confusing. Mark Blum, Alex Dreier, Jonathan Walker all are great as supporting characters pressing the story forward.
In The Assembled Parties, the characters’ choices reminded me of the best I have done in my own life, and the best I’ve failed to do. As they laughed and cried in their struggle with complex issues I loved them because they are real. They are my mother, my bother, my aunt and uncle, my good friend, my children. They are me. And through each of them I could see my life lived in new ways. I highly recommend The Assembled Parties for anyone looking for an erudite show where the humor and comedy is as light as the drama is rich.