Think Arthur Miller’s “The Price” or Wendy Wasserstein’s “The Sisters Rosensweig.” Playwright Jennifer Maisel must have done so, at least subconsciously, for “The Last Seder.” Or is it just that the dysfunctional-family reunion is such an evergreen topic, particularly around the holidays? Maisel’s family is called Price, and her 80-minute one-act talks a lot about price and value among the Prices, so we’ll leave Miller and his play out of the discussion for now. After all, Maisel’s characters and setting are a bit downmarket from those of her predecessors. The homestead to which the family Price repairs for the title feast is, after all, in East Rockaway.
Marvin, the patriarch (heartbreakingly played by Greg Mullavey), is deep into dementia and about to be shipped off to a facility for the memory-challenged. His wife, Lily, already behaving like a widow, is newly foulmouthed and perfectly at peace with selling the house in which she and Marvin raised four daughters.(Her feisty indifference is perfectly captured by Kathryn Kates.) Lily has invited her fractious immediate family and their significant others to participate in a clearing out of childhood possessions and to partake of the traditional Passover meal. One daughter, Claire (Abigail Rose Solomon), even arrives with a rented U-Haul trailer instead of a bottle of wine. Claire has brought along her live-in boyfriend Jon (Eric T. Miller), who is addicted to his smartphone. Jon is a “stealth fertilizer” who wants marriage and children, while Claire is secretly popping birth-control pills.
Would that the other three daughters and their plus-ones were written even that originally. Michelle (Gaby Hoffman) is so desperate not to appear unattached that she picks up a stranger in Penn Station (Ryan Barry) en route and persuades him to join the nonparty. Lesbian daughter Julia (Sarah Winkler) is pregnant with what will be the only Price grandchild so far and has her watchful girlfriend Jane (Mélisa Breiner-Sanders) in tow. Baby daughter Angel (Natalie Kuhn) too quickly reconnects with the boy next door (Andy Lucien), and Lily dabbles with her own older boy next door (John Michalski).
Jessica Bauman does a good job of directing traffic with the large cast, staging scenes in all corners of the performing space and thereby providing needed separation of story’s many threads. Scenic designer Gabriel Hainer Evansohn’s pitched-roof set is a marvel, turning as needed into bed, bath, and beyond—even serving as the Seder table. The Prices never get around to actually eating anything at that table, so busy are they resigning themselves and reconciling with one another. That might serve as a metaphor for “The Last Seder,” which without this uniformly excellent cast of 11 might constitute a pretty sketchy meal.
Presented by Rosalind Productions at Theater Three, 311 W. 43rd St., 3rd floor, NYC. Dec. 5–Jan. 13. (212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com. Casting by Judy Bowman.
Critic’s Grade: B