Jews celebrating Christmas, without a Chinese restaurant in sight: It would seem like a premise without much promise. But in “The Assembled Parties,” at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, playwright Richard Greenberg turns gossamer into gold, with a healthy dose of warmth and humor. Sparkling performances from Jessica Hecht and Judith Light make his witty Yuletide banter shine all the brighter.
In a rambling apartment on the Upper West Side, Julie (Hecht), sister-in-law Faye (Light), son Tim (Alex Dreier or Jake Silbermann), and family friend Jeff (Jeremy Shamos) share two Christmas dinners 20 years apart. The first, in 1980, is widely attended; in 2000 it’s just the foursome. Both are hosted by Julie, who gave up a brief but brilliant film career to raise a family. And family is what the play’s about. Julie and Faye have known the joy and especially the pain of marriage and motherhood, with their attendant compromises, disappointments and losses.
Greenberg gives acerbic Faye a string of zingers, which Light delivers impeccably. She’s a riot. But the play belongs to Julie, the woman-child both knowing and naive. Hecht captures all her contradictions with gentle grace. And Shamos, as a friend of Julie’s older son half in love with her, adds a note of quiet, steadfast support.
A little light in substance, “The Assembled Parties” is sometimes heavy-handed in exposition. But its spirit — Julie’s embrace of life as beautifully embodied by Hecht — transcends its minor flaws.