April 18, 2024 #1 Local News, Information and Event Source for the Century City/Westwood areas.

Theatre Review: Neil Simon Meets Agatha Christie in “The Engagement Party” at the Geffen Playhouse

It’s unusual for me to begin a review of a play by raving about the set, but Scenic Designer Alexander Dodge put together an extraordinary eye candy set consisting of three revolving stories, with each room beautifully decorated with designer furniture befitting the Park Avenue home of Katherine and Josh, wonderfully characterized by Bella Heathcote and Jonah Platt, respectively. The set is a perfect frame for the West Coast premiere of “The Engagement Party,” written by Samuel Baum and meticulously directed by Darko Tresnjak, who shapes uniformly excellent performances.   

In between hugs and kisses, the happy couple are busy getting ready to greet family and friends to celebrate their engagement. Katherine (Kat) is putting the finishing touches on the festive table set with fine dishware, candles, and sparkling crystal goblets to house the expensive champagne. As they go about their tasks, the happy couple take time out for hugs and kisses and are supremely happy.

The first guests to arrive are Kat’s parents – Conrad, nicely played by Richard Bekins, and his wife Gail, well played by Wendie Malick. They are greeted warmly by the newly engaged couple, with mom swooning over Kat’s $300,000 engagement ring.  Being head of a Hedge Fund does have its financial perks. It appears, however, that Josh worked for Kat’s dad for a short period of time, and more about that is revealed later in the action. Next up is Kai (Brian Lee Huynh), who works for Josh. He arrives with his wife Haley (Lauren Worsham), who appears to be a bit fragile. They have a nine-month-old baby, and perhaps Haley is experiencing a bit of postpartum blues.  

Alan (Mark Jacobson) is an old friend and is a college professor of psychology. He is not anywhere near the wealth his friends enjoy but is a good friend, nevertheless. The final guest is Johnny, a rough and tough guy wonderfully played by Brian Patrick Murphy. He and Josh have been friends since they were two years old.  Neither of them came out of wealthy families, and they described their living conditions as “shit shanty.” So far, happiness prevails over the beginning of the evening, but the first kink is about to happen. It seems that Kai’s wife is going to interview for a job at a foundation over which Josh’s father-in-law presides. Kai joins Josh in the kitchen and asks if he could put in a good word for his wife, but his friend refuses, which really hurts his feelings, and he becomes angry. Josh leaves Kai in the kitchen, and in comes the college professor, who sees that Kai is very upset and angry and asks him what’s wrong. Kai unleashes his anger, and soon they both return to the dining room as it’s time for dinner, and the guests settle down at the elegant dining room table. Conversations ensued, and at one point, everyone was curious about her ring.  

Kat takes it off her finger so it can be passed around the table. In the meantime, Conrad finds out that Haley is interviewing for a job at his foundation and says that she would be a welcome addition, a comment that leaves Josh less than pleased. As the light conversation continues,  a champagne toast is made, and after a while, Kat asks for the ring to be returned to her, but as everyone looks around, it’s nowhere in sight. They removed the tablecloth, thinking the ring somehow was underneath, but it was not there – nor was it on the floor, in anyone’s pocket, or even behind the radiator. 

Kai was the last one to see the ring, and he insisted that he lay it on the table. Josh is beginning to be convinced that someone stole the ring, and the first one who comes to mind is Kai. He quietly goes up to the third-floor bedroom and begins to rifle through Haley’s purse. His friend Johnny tries to discourage him from doing that. The ring is not in her purse, and now Josh begins to think about each guest and who would benefit from stealing his ring. 

To make matters even worse, Conrad appears in the bedroom, and we realize there is really bad blood between them, the reason for which I will not reveal.  By and by, it seems that almost all the guests have a reason to steal the ring, and your guess is as good as mine, but I’m not telling you. But that is not the only surprise as there’s another profound revelation that this excellent script reveals.  There are surprises right up to the very last moment.   

This production follows the recipe for a hit play. It begins, of course, with a terrific script, an imaginative director who knows how to work with actors, a dynamite set augmented with Matthew Richards’ lighting, Joshua Pearson’s elegant costume design, and Jane Shaw’s Original Music and Sound, which covers the multiple revolving set changes including such chestnuts as “Pennies From Heaven,” “Dukes Place,” “Let’s Get Lost,” and “How Am I To Know,” to name but a few.  Mix all these ingredients together, and you have a very exciting theatrical experience.

Gill Cates Theatre
The Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Avenue
Los Angeles: CA 90024
Written by: Samuel Baum
Directed by: Darko Tresnjak
Run: Monday & Tuesday: No Performance
Wednesday –  Friday:  8:00 pm  
Saturday: 3:00 pm & 8:00 pm 
Sunday:  2:00  & 7:00 pm
Closing: November 5, 2023 
Tickets:  $39 – $129  
Phone: 310.208.2028 
Content Advisory: This production contains profanity and adult subject matter.

in News, upbeat
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