New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Ethnic Theater - Jewish

"The Last Seder"
Theatre Three, Manhattan

It may seem a little early to be celebrating Passover, but no matter. Jennifer Maisel’s new 90-minute piece “The Last Seder” (now playing off-Broadway) is indeed relevant and timely. Maisel’s dramatized observance of a holiday (normally observed in the spring) is simply an excuse to assemble the family around the table. What other Jewish holiday works that well?

And Maisel needs to have them there, with all their problems. This particular tribe, the Prices (were they once the Prisotskys?) runs the gamut of socio-familial concerns, any one of which might affect a middle-class American family. The father Marvin has Alzheimer’s, while the mother Lily pursues an affair with the neighbor Mr. Friedman. Moreover, she has the unwelcome role of caretaker. And then there are the four daughters: one is Lesbian (and pregnant), one has an African-American boy friend, one is uncertain whether to marry her lover, and one is alienated from the whole bunch.

As the group assembles for the traditional rite, there is enough going on in this busy household to keep us all entertained. The father is about to be packed off to a place called Serenity Willows. The house is being dismantled, and the siblings fight over old possessions as cartons are moved about. Familiar? Indeed.

But Maisel deals with so many issues that the piece lacks sharp focus. Whom should we follow? Who is most worthy of our attention? One grows dizzy from the possibilities, even though director Jessica Bauman capably keeps the plot aloft, juggling all the balls in the air. And the cast of eleven (mostly Equity players) is a first-rate ensemble, as they engage in banter, accusations, hair-pulling, love-making and fist fights.

Maisel/Bauman pull it together, as the group settles in for their particular kind of Seder, enhanced by songs. And here is the most touching moment of the play. Marvin (who has clearly been out of it for the play’s first hour) now takes charge. And, remarkably, he knows exactly what he is doing. In fact, he makes sense. Years of such Seders carry him through this one.

Though Maisel’s play could use more focus, it is a worthy effort---and no doubt touches a chord within its viewers. Who among us has not gone through some aspect of this family story?

---Irene Backalenick
December 11, 2012

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