Theater Review: THE ENGAGEMENT PARTY (The Geffen Playhouse) - Stage and Cinema (2024)


Going into the west coast premiere production of Samuel Baum’s The Engagement Party, currently running at the Geffen Playhouse, I was aware of two things. First, a spilled glass of wine is the instigating action that causes everything to collapse. Two, the poster bore a striking resemblance to imagery used in ads for carpet cleaner. I was expecting to see a play about a contentious carpet stain. This is not that play.

Jonah Platt

The story involves Katherine and Josh, two very wealthy New Yorkers who invite their closest and oldest relations to their Park Avenue apartment to celebrate their engagement. Well, that’s how Katherine sees it. Josh seems more concerned with showing off his money and the ring he bought, a ring so elaborate and expensive that it has diamonds placed behind diamonds. Katherine invites Alan, Kai, and Haley, who are old college friends, and Josh invites Johnny, with whom he grew up poor together, and is decidedly lower-class. Katherine’s parents, Conrad and Gail, complete the guest list.

Richard Bekins, Wendie Malick and Bella Heathcote

Once all assembled, the characters begin an extended scene of small talk and barely-concealed disdain and resentment beneath a surface of politeness. Only Conrad seems up for genuine conversation, but chooses to engage in battle with Alan, the ostentatiously liberal philosopher. It was here that I braced for the impact of a Heavy Play that dealt with Big Ideas. Thankfully, that impact never came, the first of many pleasant surprises during the performance.

Jonah Platt and Brian Lee Huynh

The party started, Alexander Dodge’s enormous and elaborate rotating set showed itself to be a star all on its own, easily the largest and most impressive that I’ve seen at the Geffen. Rotating sets are often seen in Los Angeles, but it’s unusual for them to be so large and so close to the audience. People gasped as the set revealed the kitchen for the first time. Dodge designed the original set at Hartford Stage, and here he revised it to be an even larger and more imposing display of wealth.

Jonah Platt and Richard Bekins

The kitchen, with shelving 20 feet high that seem more for decoration that function, is where all the real conversations happen. Here, the characters drop their pretenses, and the play finally comes to life as they give us reasons to expect them to later lash out.

Brian Patrick Murphy

Eventually we get to the wine-spilling scene. As everyone passes the engagement ring to gush over it, Kai knocks over his wine glass (on the table, not the carpet). It’s practically a nothing event, but in the rush to contain the spill, the ring goes missing. And stays missing. Josh suspects everyone of stealing it, despite Katherine’s protestations and the lack of logic for anyone to have taken it. While most of the characters have motives, none of them rise to the level of stealing a $300,000 ring.

Brian Lee Huynh, Bella Heathcote, Jonah Platt and Mark Jacobson

At this point, a feeling of familiarity crept over me, and I realized that I was seeing what amounts to a reworking of Martin McDonaugh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Just as with the main character in that play, Josh acts out in increasingly destructive ways, blind to any alternative explanations for the ring’s disappearance.

Mark Jacobson

Richard Bekins, Brian Lee Huynh, and Brian Patrick Murphy return to the roles they originated in Hartford. Filling out this killer cast is Bella Heathcote, Mark Jacobson, Wendie Malick, Jonah Platt, and Lauren Worsham. Each of them is a pleasure to see perform and they have a believable naturalness as a group.

Lauren Worsham, Bella Heathcote, Jonah Platt,Richard Bekins, Wendie Malick and Mark Jacobson

Even though I had a pretty strong hunch about who took the ring, Baum’s tense writing had me second-guessing throughout. I particularly liked his economy of words. Late in the play, Katherine learns a big secret, and her mother Gail (Malick) approaches her. Other plays go into a moralizing monologue, but Baum simply has Gail say, “It was a different time…” Darko Tresnjak’s direction allows Malick to take her time around this line, suggesting understanding, even acceptance, of the rules of her marriage. In another instance, Katherine (Heathcoate) shows that Josh’s suspicions are beginning to rub off on her by only a slow, wordless turn of the head. Even though the play is an intense 80 minutes, Tresnjak doesn’t rush it.

Lauren Worsham

By the play’s unsettling end, we learn that Josh is conniving enough and capable of playing the long game of deception. Many romantic comedies blow this off and finish by marrying the leads. However, by not including us in the man’s pursuit of the relationship, thereby making us root for him, this play puts the focus on the woman and her shock of learning more truth about the past, a refreshing take on a familiar trope.

Wendie Malick, Richard Bekins, Bella Heathcote and Jonah Platt

The Engagement Party is an absorbing, taut, intelligent play that respects my time. As for the ring, it was in the only place it could have logically been.

photos by Jeff Lorch
poster photo by Justin Bettman

The Engagement Party
Geffen Playhouse, 10866 Le Conte Avenue in Westwood
Wed-Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on November 5, 2023
for tickets, call 310.208.5454 or visitGeffen Playhouse

Bella Heathcote and Jonah Platt


Richard BekinsasConrad

Bella Heathcoteas Katherine

Brian Lee Huynhas Kai

Mark Jacobsonas Alan

Wendie Malickas Gail

Brian Patrick Murphyas Johnny

Jonah Plattas Josh

Lauren Worshamas Haley


Scenic DesignerAlexander Dodge

Costume DesignerJoshua Pearson

Lighting DesignerMatthew Richards

Original Music & Sound Design byJane Shaw

Intimacy DirectorSasha Nicolle Smith

Production Stage ManagerEdward Khris Fernandez

Assistant Stage ManagerMikayla Bettner

Casting DirectorPhyllis Schuringa, CSA

Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts

Based on this article, it seems to be a review or analysis of a play called "The Engagement Party" by Samuel Baum. The author discusses various aspects of the play, including the plot, characters, set design, and the overall experience. The review highlights the tension, intelligent writing, and the unexpected twists in the play.

Now, let's dive into the concepts mentioned in the article:

Plot and Characters:

"The Engagement Party" revolves around Katherine and Josh, a wealthy couple from New York, who invite their closest friends and family to celebrate their engagement. The play explores the dynamics between the characters, their hidden resentments, and the unraveling of their relationships. The author mentions that the characters engage in small talk and polite conversations, but beneath the surface, there is a sense of disdain and tension.

Set Design:

The article praises the set design of the play, particularly the enormous and elaborate rotating set created by Alexander Dodge. The set, which includes a kitchen with high shelves for decoration, becomes a focal point where the characters drop their pretenses and engage in real conversations.

Writing and Direction:

The author appreciates Samuel Baum's writing style, describing it as tense and intelligent. The play avoids heavy moralizing monologues and instead focuses on subtle moments and gestures to convey emotions and character development. The director, Darko Tresnjak, is commended for allowing the play to unfold at a natural pace without rushing the intense moments.

Themes and End:

The article suggests that the play explores themes of deception, wealth, and the impact of past secrets on relationships. It also mentions that the play takes a refreshing approach by putting the focus on the woman's perspective and her shock at discovering the truth about the past. The ending is described as unsettling, with the revelation that Josh is capable of playing a long game of deception.

Overall, "The Engagement Party" is portrayed as an absorbing and well-crafted play that respects the audience's time and offers unexpected twists and turns.

I hope this summary provides you with a good understanding of the concepts discussed in the article. Let me know if there's anything else I can help you with!

Theater Review: THE ENGAGEMENT PARTY (The Geffen Playhouse) - Stage and Cinema (2024)


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