Review of Manhattan Theatre Club's The Perplexed at New York City Center

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    March 3, 2020
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    The Perplexed, a new American play commissioned by Manhattan Theatre Club and performed on Stage 1 at New York City Center, can be described as quite… perplexing.

    The tragi-comedy, written by Richard Greenberg and directed by Lynne Meadow, focuses on two very wealthy New York, Upper East Side families, the Stahls and the Resniks, who gather for the first time in many years to celebrate the wedding of their children. In addition to the long feud between the families, each individual is fighting with their own demons. There’s the officiant (Eric William Morris), who is looking for his place in the world, and perhaps also his love; there is the bride’s uncle (Patrick Breen), a book-writer who has fallen from success to mediocrity and can’t seem to reconcile his unhappiness with his privilege; the bride’s father (Frank Wood), who is dealing with many traumas and a deep resentment for the host of the evening; the bride’s brother (Zane Pais), a medical student whose new side-job is not approved by the group; and that’s only the bride’s half.

    The Perplexed is a very entertaining character study. You will find yourself getting wound up in the drama of both individual and family and wondering: where is this complex web going to take us? Sadly, the train doesn’t move too far out of the station. The piece examines each individual within its structure but doesn’t deepen in its nearly two and a half hour running time to deal with some of the more perplexing issues these characters are facing.

    It comes closest to doing so in the scene in which the bride’s uncle and her grandfather’s caretaker (Anna Itty) discuss what happiness is. The uncle, a man of great wealth and privilege, asks why he can feel so unhappy while the caretaker, who had to work much harder for what she has, can live her life with so much joy. However, this is as far as the play traverses towards these more complicated questions facing a family of such wealth, privilege, and history in New York City.

    The ensemble for the piece are wonderful, from being the center of the scene, to reading or working on speeches in the various nooks of the labyrinthine library of Santo Loquasto’s scenic design. Margaret Colin’s strong, matriarchal, yet tender and vulnerable portrayal of Evy Arlen-Stahl, the bride’s mother, was particularly enamoring. The water-stain on her skirt continued to rise (thanks to costume designer, Rita Ryack), as she waded deeper and deeper into the drama of those around her.

    The Perplexed is an entertaining night out at the theater but may not be able to offer you more than that. This play about privilege only brushes against the questions and issues of privilege itself, before brushing them away in lieu of a quickly resolved happy ending, and leaving the audience with the perplexing questions of ‘What do I take away from this?’ and ‘What have I learned?’

    (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

    "Plenty of plays, from “Hamlet” to “Hamilton,” feature a restless title character itching for action. But The Perplexed, which opened on Tuesday at New York City Center Stage I, has six — and that’s not even counting the audience. In any case, six are way too many for Richard Greenberg’s hermetic family comedy, a modest story inflated to unwarranted size by what appears to be dramaturgical panic. The Perplexed, directed by Lynne Meadow for Manhattan Theater Club, wants so much to be important that it forgets to be plausible first."
    Jesse Green for New York Times

    "In 1971, at the nadir of his professional career, Edward Albee defied the critics, as well his dwindling number of theatergoers, by giving his latest play the title All Over. Richard Greenberg isn’t being quite that audacious title-wise, but with The Perplexed, he’s essentially reviewing his new play, and it’s not a good review. The incredibly rich Jewish characters presented here aren’t perplexed, but audiences at Off Broadway’s Manhattan Theater Club will be."
    Robert Hofler for The Wrap

    "Have you ever been a guest at a noisy affair, a wedding maybe, and longed for a refuge where you could hear yourself think and perhaps engage in some quiet, one-on-one conversation? Richard Greenberg's new play, The Perplexed, now receiving its world premiere at off-Broadway's Manhattan Theatre Club, will cure you of that desire. The action takes place in the beautifully appointed library of a fancy Fifth Avenue apartment, as a large wedding is being held in the adjoining ballroom. The door periodically pops open to reveal the loud sounds of excited chatter among the unseen guests, and long before the evening reaches it conclusion, you'll be wishing you were one them."
    Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter

    "There’s a lot of tsuris in Richard Greenberg’s witty and quite wonderful The Perplexed, — at least for the older generation of characters on this 10-actor cast. In this new play now making its bow at Manhattan Theatre Club, they’re struggling madly with changing times they can’t fathom, family wounds that won’t heal and a posh wedding that no one particularly wants — except perhaps for the off-stage, wicked, ancient billionaire whose palatial home is the setting for the event."
    Frank Rizzo for Variety