It’s a cold January evening in 2007 and a beautiful, young couple are awaiting their dinner guests in their swanky Upper East Side apartment. We soon find out it’s actually a small gathering of their nearest and dearest to celebrate their engagement. Josh is obviously very successful and, together with his Grace Kelly lookalike fiancé, Katherine, seems to have the world by the tail. Descending upon their insanely chic apartment is Katherine’s Waspy parents, Conrad and Gail; Katherine’s college roommate, Haley, and her husband Kai, who works with Josh; another college friend, Alan, who is now a progressive philosophy professor at Columbia; and showing up late is a boisterous Johnny, who grew up with Josh in a hard knocks neighborhood and is between deployments in the military.
All begins as is to be expected at an engagement party with jovial hugs, toasts and gift giving. Conversation weaves in and out of awkward and funny moments touching on opposing politics and lifestyles with hints of old wounds and unspoken alliances. As they move on to dinner all is going to plan until a sudden wine spill sets in motion a series of events that upends not only the evening but each and every one of their lives.
I won’t give any specifics because the twists, turns and gasp-inducing reveals are what make “The Engagement Party” at Geffen Playhouse such fun to watch. Samuel Baum’s brisk 80 minute play with no intermission is a sharply written, living room thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat. The story captivates, as does the cast, as it explores notions of identity, friendships, loyalties and secrets.
Darko Tresnjak deftly directs his dynamic cast to keep things taut as the suspicions and accusations build to a shattering conclusion. The Alexander Dodge set is spectacular – a rotating exploration of a chic, modern Upper East Side apartment with enviable high ceilings. There are three areas characters move through – from the impeccably decorated living and dining area with a spiral staircase to the impossibly sleek, white kitchen and up into the bedroom that overlooks the front door and street.
Jonah Platt leads the cast as Josh and does a great job of slowly revealing his fear and pain as his winning façade begins to crack. Bella Heathcote brings effortless style and grace to the role of Katherine while Lauren Worsham gives Kath’s friend, Hayley, an authenticity of someone on the edge. As her husband, Kai, Brian Lee Huynh walks a perfect line of admiration and resentment Kai feels about Josh’s success. Mark Jacobson combines a professorial intelligence and social awkwardness to the role of Alan, who seems to find himself unfortunately in the middle of each of the various conflicts. Brian Patrick Murphy is a breath of fresh air as Johnny, bringing both the biggest laughs and the most grounded moments with Josh. He definitely pumps up the energy among this upper class and upwardly mobile group. Rounding out the cast beautifully are veteran actors Richard Bekins and Wendie Malick as Katherine’s parents. Malick is pitch perfect as the slightly boozy, irreverent but thoroughly appropriate aging socialite and Bekins delivers a nuanced performance as the seemingly doting and protective father.
This thoroughly engrossing engagement party takes you on a nailbiting, psychological thriller of a ride, elucidating how deceit will fester and catch up with you regardless of how carefully you craft the lie.
THE ENGAGEMENT PARTY runs through November 5, 2023 at Gil Cates Theater at Geffen Playhouse located at 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024
Tickets currently priced at $30.00 – $129.00. Available by phone at 310.208.2028 or online at www.geffenplayhouse.org.
All Geffen Playhouse productions are intended for an adult audience; children under ten years of age will not be admitted.
Rush tickets for each day’s performance are made available to the general public one hour before showtime at the box office. $35.00 General/$15.00 Student.