Chicago Theatre Review
‘The Assembled Parties’ a richly detailed, human drama
The Assembled Parties – Raven Theatre
A middle-aged brother and sister are sharing drinks in an enormous Upper West Side apartment in Manhattan. As the sister finishes her drink, the brother asks if he can get her a refill. “No,” she responds. “I’m saving room for a sedative.”
That is just one of the literally dozens of razor-sharp lines from ‘The Assembled Parties,’ a wonderful play of radiant wit and moving beauty that is receiving its Midwest premiere at Raven Theatre. A work that simultaneously celebrates theater archetypes while breaking them down to pieces, the play is not to be missed.
Set in two distinct time periods across its two acts, ‘Assembled Parties’ follows the Christmas celebrations of the Bascov family, a finely tuned – albeit highly irascible – bunch that is anchored by Julie, a highly refined wife and mother who balances cooking sensational French cuisine with tales of her years as a teen movie star. She is complemented by her blunt husband Ben and two sons (the sweet but useless Scotty and young Timmy), and they are joined by Ben’s sister, the delightfully acidic Faye, and her husband and daughter, the unapologetic Mort and hilariously bizarre Shelley. Standing in the center of all the commotion is Jeff, a student at the Harvard Law School who is Scotty’s guest for the holidays.
Indeed, there are many elements of ‘Assembled Parties’ that will seem familiar to frequent theatergoers, from the posh New York apartment (marvelously staged by Jeffrey D. Kmiec), to the Ivy League degrees, to the casual wealth of the characters. What sets it apart, though, is the way that playwright Richard Greenberg both revels in those familiarities and offers critical nuance – just as he pushes some elements towards satire, he finds surprising warmth and humility in others.
And Raven’s exquisite cast, expertly directed by Cody Estle, brings everything into focus. Plowing through Greenberg’s elaborate dialogue with rich aplomb, it is an absolute delight watching these performers on stage, from Christopher Peltier’s nervous Jeff, to Marika Mashburn’s hysterical Shelley, to JoAnn Montemurro’s Faye; indeed, Montemurro, who is Raven’s co-artistic director, will be a familiar face to any fan of the company’s work, and her wit and intensity is among Chicago theater’s finest pleasures.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented through March 25 by Raven Theatre Company, 6157 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60660
Tickets are available by calling 773-338-2177 or by visiting www.raventheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.