Richard Greenberg is a very lucky man. This production is a gift that elevates his text to a dizzying height, truly a shining example of the best of ensemble work.
This is the story of a family who is in denial about being the last of a dying breed. They are liberal reformed Jews who celebrate Christmas because they can. It is 1980 and an easy breezy excuse for a get together. Rumaki, goose, potatoes coated in semolina and roasted in the goose fat. As Julie (Jessica Hecht) points out it’s medieval, there should be vassals and broadswords and a maypole. This she confides to their holiday house guest Jeff (Jeremy Shamos) who is a friend of their son Scotty (Jake Silberman). Jeff is overwhelmed by Julie who, upon first hearing seems to be speaking with a foreign accent, as if English were her second language. After awhile though this becomes less of an affectation and more proof that Julie is only visiting the planet. She is the kind of person who never thinks about how the sausage is being made – she simply trusts that it will show up on her plate, and it does. A former film actor, Julie is now married to Ben (Jonathan Walker) and the very happy mother of Scotty and his much, much younger brother Timmy (Alex Dreier).
And it is this dreamy appreciation and faith that is the center board of the tale. Without it, all the sturm and drang would have no balance. And there is plenty of chaos, but even that seems to be delivered with a wistful quality as if it were being filtered through Julie’s ears. (She can call her husband wretched and vile and it sounds like violins playing.) The remarkable Judith Light delivers a spotless and at times wrenching performance as Faye, Ben’s sister. Faye leads a life of calculated discontent. She lives with a man she says she doesn’t love and has a daughter that began life as an accident and has not progressed much further. Her mother is dying and she must convince her brother to pay his respects, which aren’t numerous, and do it pronto. She marvels at Julie’s goodness the way people at the Met marvel at hand painted china – it’s beautiful but not practical.
But the main string of beads that is about to come loose is between the men. Mort (Mark Blum at his best) is about to blackmail Ben with such a deft hand we never see it coming. And all the “kids” seem to be full to the gills with anxiety or dissatisfaction or the sense that the future is coming on at a pace they had never noticed before.
Twenty years later we connect up once again. Same beautiful apartment (Hats off to Santo Loquasto for an extraordinary set) with a bit of sadness draped over everything. The men of the family are passed on, and there is only Julie, Faye, Jeff and now the not so young Timmy to carry on. Life has been a little rough with everyone, including and especially Julie. But her joy and gratitude are unaffected by her circumstances, and Hecht achieves a certain elegance in this act that pulls the entire story together. It is those around Julie, including a matured Shamos who shines, who take on the sadness and the responsibility of reality. Julie remains untouched and hopeful.
This is a talky play that could use a few enormous trimmings. And there are some gaps in the story line large enough to let a freight train pass through. This is why the casting and direction are so critical for this production. In other hands the sheer weight of the words, words, words, words plus the glaring unconnected dots would weigh this story down into an irretrievable mess (i.e. Three Days of Rain and The Violet Hour). But because of this cast and Lynne Meadows sensitive direction we get the best of what Greenberg was trying to say.
Like I said - he is a fortunate writer.
"It is, in a word, charming."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Warm-hearted but wispy."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Feels a little wobbly."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Entertaining and humane show."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage
"Very, very funny, and, as it ends, deeply moving."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"Absorbing new family drama."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
"Funny-sad comedy as unexpectedly affecting as it is entertaining."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter
"Julie and Faye are natural enemies but too fond of one another to declare war. Their warm relationship is the heart of the play, just as the wonderful rapport between Hecht and Light is the heart of this production."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...