Total Rating: 
March 25, 2017
Raven Theater Company
Theater Type: 
Raven Arts Center
Theater Address: 
6157 North Clark Street
Richard Greenberg

Ben Bascov is New York Jewish, the pride of his Nassau County-dwelling kin. His wife, Julia, is Hollywood Jewish, a former teenage starlet raised by her single-mom fashion designer. On this Christmas day in 1980, their Central Park West apartment (so big that guests get lost in its many rooms) sports a decorated tree, gifts waiting to be exchanged, a kitchen emitting the savory aroma of roast goose, but nary a trace of religious tschotchkes.

The deity worshipped by the Bascov tribe in The Assembled Parties soon becomes manifest after the arrival of Ben's kvetchy sister, Faye; her surly husband, Mort; and sullen daughter Shelley, the latter of whom has been groomed for failure from an early age. The hope of its elders is Ben and Julia's son Scott. (Little brother Timmy is only 4, and has the flu today.)

The harbingers of future rebellion evidenced in its children, encumbered with the family's relentless drive for upward mobility, are not immediately apparent to Jeff, Scott's classmate at Harvard visiting over the holidays — whose own parents' aspirations are linked to the opportunities proffered thereby. However, playgoers endowed with the benefits of hindsight will not be surprised, viewing this would-be dynasty 20 years later in the cold recessionary light of 2000, to discover that the misfortunes hinted at earlier have come to pass.

The conventions of the literary genre predicated on reunions mandate that fortunes undergo profound reversals, but while the trials of Richard Greenberg's bubble-reared bourgeoisie may not be cataclysmic (in real life, occurring a year later), the betrayal of their complacent expectations and disillusionment engendered thereby is no less poignant for the irony reflected in the spectrum of the survivors: telemarketer Shelley, slackerly Timmy, widows Faye and Julia, and Midwest emigre Jeff.

To be sure, Faye continues to defend her parenting skills and Julia insists on preparing a festive, albeit thrifty, dinner for this occasion; however, instead of jeering their reluctance to abandon the customs associated with privilege, we admire their resilience, especially after we learn the sacrifices necessary for its maintenance.

On a stage as wide as that in Raven Theater's auditorium, the vast expanses of physical space could present difficulties, not only in the assembly of a suitably furnished stage picture, but for actors tasked with forging connections visible to audiences struggling to keep their attention focused. Fortunately, the ensemble, under the direction of Cody Estle, has delved beyond the scripted information to construct backstories for their personae so specific that we easily guess — assisted by our hindsight, of course — the unseen events occurring in the intervening two decades.

This review first appeared in Windy City Times, 2/17
Mary Shen Barnidge
Date Reviewed: 
February 2017