From left, Mark Jacobson, Brian Lee Huynh, Wendie Malick, Lauren Worsham, Richard Bekins, Bella Heathcote, Jonah Platt and Brian Patrick Murphy in The Engagement Party at Geffen Playhouse.
October 27, 2023
Thereâ€™s quite a life-changing event unfolding onstage at The Geffen Playhouse with â€śThe Engagement Party,â€ť by Samuel Baum. The tautly twisting plot and well-oiled ensemble cast bring forth a complex, funny, tragic and intricate story about what simmers below the surface of peopleâ€™s lives. When the party ends, we can only imagine that nothing will ever be same for or between any of the characters.
During this evening we encounter love, laughs, resentment, suspicion, class bias, ideological clashes, and one very big reveal, but most of all, broken trust. So what happens to cause all this dysfunction?
Jewish Josh (Jonah Platt) and his WASP wife-to-be Katherine (Bella Heathcote) are throwing a dinner party for Katherineâ€™s parents and their closest friends from college (and one even earlier) in their super swanky Park Avenue duplex. The set is a perfectly designed contemporary dwelling (2007 style) with the just-right neutral tones, the appropriate art on the wall, a modern hanging chandelier over a dining table set for eight, a rotating stage that reveals both living room, an impossibly tall white kitchen, and a spiral staircase leading to an upstairs bedroom. Much like a French farce in reverse, there are lots of characters exiting and entering doors in different combinations, as they commingle interchangeably, depending on whoâ€™s dealing with what issue fraying at the seams of their social fabric.
Hints of whatâ€™s to come begin with jokes about Katherine being a â€śshiksaâ€ť (non-Jew), followed by a feeling of strained cordiality between Josh and Katherineâ€™s Dad Conrad (Richard Bekins). Mother Gail (the always excellent Wendie Malick) is wearing an arm crutch because sheâ€™s being treated for cancer.
Next to arrive is Kai (Brian Lee Huynh), an Asian American â€śbroâ€ť and his â€śearth motherâ€ť wife Haley (Lauren Worsham), followed by schlubby Alan (Mark Jacobson), a Columbia professor who tilts pretty far left. Meanwhile, the phone rings, and itâ€™s Johnny (Brian Patrick Murphy) calling to say heâ€™s running late. When he gets there, heâ€™s like a fish out of water: a loud, cursing Italian-American military dude in a loud Hawaiian shirt, with grease on his hands, whose flight from his army base in Alabama was delayed in Pittsburgh so heâ€™s driven in from there. Heâ€™s Joshâ€™s best friend from childhood and knows that this new, rich guy faĂ§ade covers up a lot of hurt, both old and new.