'The Perplexed' Was Aptly Named

by Brooke Pierce
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Mar 16, 2020
Eric William Morris and Zane Pais in "The Perplexed."
Eric William Morris and Zane Pais in "The Perplexed."  (Source:Michael Murphy)

Aptly named, Richard Greenberg's new play "The Perplexed" is a multi-family drama that takes place on the chaotic day of a wedding. While this production, courtesy of the Manhattan Theatre Club, looks great and has a terrific cast, the play itself is a hard slog.

The sprawling library of a Fifth Avenue apartment provides the setting for "The Perplexed" (kudos to scenic designer Santo Loquasto for creating one of those inviting sets that makes the audience seethe with real estate jealousy). As the play opens, Cyrus Bloom (Eric William Morris) is trying unsuccessfully to write his remarks as officiant of the wedding.

He is eventually joined by various members of the bride and groom's families, who it seems have a longstanding dispute (lawsuits are involved), but are trying to mend fences for the sake of "the kids."

From the very start, Greenberg's writing feels full of false notes and laughs that don't land. One problem is that the characters somehow sound too much alike — whether it's the former rabbi Cyrus or the flighty mother of the bride Natalie (Ilana Levine), they all sound extraordinarily well-educated and too witty by half.

The only character where the level of erudition seems natural is an uncle who is a professional writer, James (Patrick Breen), who one guesses might be something of a stand-in for Greenberg himself.

In general, the writing is often either too self-indulgent (when the characters start pontificating) or wooden and expository. It takes forever to untangle the character relationships, and there isn't much of a plot. Much of it is just the family members — many of whom have been estranged or had recent disagreements — talking through what went wrong in the past or explaining what they are doing with their lives now.

Director Lynne Meadow maintains a light, pleasant tone to the evening, but she isn't able to overcome the weaknesses of the over-long script. She doesn't always seem able to get the best out of the talented cast or make the attempts at humor in the script work.

While much of the play is tedious, there are some genuinely good moments, both funny and moving. There is a powerful scene with the father of the bride Joseph (Frank Wood), where he recalls being forced by his father to endure conversion therapy in his youth. Another is a lovely scene where Joseph's wife Evy (Margaret Colin) and father of the groom Ted (Gregg Edelman) have a light flirtation while reminiscing about the past.

There is also a charming dialogue between malcontented James and the family patriarch's nurse Patricia (Anna Itty), where he despairs at the fact that she is happy with her life despite it being so much more challenging than his. But these bright spots aren't enough to save the production.

While, happily, the bride and groom seem to have their future figured out, the rest of the family in "The Perplexed" is having a hard time of things — and unfortunately it's not much better for the audience.

In accordance with the guidance of Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and government officials, Manhattan Theatre Club has canceled performances of "The Perplexed." For more information, visit the Manhattan Theatre Club website.

Brooke Pierce is a freelance writer and playwright in New York City. Her plays have received staged readings at the American Theatre of Actors, the Ensemble Studio Theatre, and Stage One Theater. Brooke is a member of the Drama Desk and the Dramatists Guild.

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