'The Assembled Parties' review: Touching

From left, Jessica Hecht as Julie, Jeremy Shamos

From left, Jessica Hecht as Julie, Jeremy Shamos as Jeff, and Judith Light as Faye in Richard Greenberg's "The Assembled Parties," directed by Lynne Meadow at MTC's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in Manhattan. (Credit: Joan Marcus)

There was a time when every season had a play or even two by Richard Greenberg -- who won his 2003 Tony for "Take Me Out" and unfair notoriety when Julia Roberts made her 2006 Broadway debut in "Three Days of Rain."

Through the '90s and half of this century's first decade, we had so much of Greenberg's fast-talking, exquisitely eloquent New Yorkers and intelligent, chameleonic stories that the word "prolific," when attached to his name, began to sound more like a complaint than praise.

Forgive the ingratitude, please. "The Assembled Parties," his first new play here since 2006, has been lovingly directed by Lynne Meadow and cast with such experts of emotional nuance as Judith Light and Jessica Hecht. The tragicomedy, despite a few unexplained improbabilities, shocks us into realizing how hungry we have been for witty and wounded grown-ups who toss off gorgeously written observations without knowing how little we know about what we think we know.

Like so many of Greenberg's intimate social studies, this one is divided into two parts. It is first Christmas Day 1980, when the privileged secular-Jewish family and an awkward outsider (the gently powerful Jeremy Shamos) gather in the unending 14-room Upper West Side apartment (splendidly designed by Santo Loquasto). After intermission, it is Christmas 2000, and the revolving set is not all that has stopped spinning.

Light dances expertly on the edge of stereotype as Faye, the bitter (but still Yiddish-quipping) daughter of a dying Russian-Jewish immigrant mother. The favored brother (Jonathan Walker) has married an impossibly perfect ex-movie actress, Julie, a modest and happy woman played by Hecht with free-floating wisdom and increasingly poignant eccentricities.

Jake Silbermann plays their golden but secretive son, then reappears in the second act as his grownup, rootless younger brother. Girlfriends never appear onstage. Deaths come abruptly. A blackmail (involving a scary Mark Blum as Faye's disappointing husband) turns out surprising, as does their demeaned, mentally slow daughter (an excellent Lauren Blumenfeld). Most of all, lies are not just useful. They also can be kind.

Meanwhile, Greenberg, definitely back in New York theater, must see his adaptation of the irrelevant "Breakfast at Tiffany's" close Sunday, but the musical adaptation of "Far From Heaven," for which he wrote the book, opens next month. And for now, parties should be assembled for this vibrant, touching play.WHAT "The Assembled Parties"

WHERE Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.

INFO $67-$120; 212-239-6200; manhattantheatreclub.org

BOTTOM LINE Vibrant, touching family drama

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