The cast of THE LAST SEDER. Photo by Richard Termine.
BOTTOM LINE: Four sisters return to their childhood home to celebrate one final Seder with their dying father.
The Last Seder opens with Michelle (Gaby Hoffmann) pleading with an off stage stranger to accompany her to her family’s Seder dinner. We learn two important points amidst her ramblings: first, that she is single; and second, that control is very important to her. As we are introduced to the other three sisters in the family -- Angel (Natalie Kuhn), Claire (Abigail Rose Solomon), and Julia (Sarah Winkler) -- we find that each falls into their necessary “dysfunctional family niche” and unfortunately none stray far from those established expectations. All are dealing with issues between lovers, one large personal quirk per sister, and the dark, lurking question of how each woman will handle their father’s rapidly increasing dementia. For me, the latter of the three was the most interesting point during this drama that constantly feels as if it is reaching out, asking the audience to engage in empathy for characters that, unfortunately, ultimately fall flat.
A lot of the play deals with lack of communication and it seems that every character has a secret they are hiding from the others. But as each secret is revealed they are found to be predictable and uninteresting. There is no great moment of shock or epiphany, rather each secret brings a “yeah, that makes sense...moving on” reaction. The lack of excitement about each sister’s secret is accompanied by occasional lines of unhidden agenda, given so blatantly that it is clear the audience won't miss the point, lines such as, “Nobody tells anyone anything any more. They status update it.” I wished for the play to show me the sadness of this truth, as opposed to simply telling me and moving on to another issue.
I would be remiss not to mention that the play builds well into a culminating point of catharsis for the entire ensemble when the story finally arrives at the actual Seder dinner itself. Greg Mullavey plays Marvin Price, the family patriarch, tragically reduced to a shell of his former self by dementia, with brutal honesty that is undeniably heartbreaking. Any audience member who has been affected by the disease will recognize and relate to the helplessness of the family as they struggle to support a man who doesn’t even know who they are. The performances in The Last Seder come from honest, believable places.
The Last Seder tries to cover a lot of ground in 100 minutes. Despite the well-designed, simple set and clear intention to make the play flow from scene to scene without hesitation, the piece still felt choppy and overcomplicated. The random and inopportune direct addresses to the audience and undisguised discussion of so many hot topics caused the empathy I was meant to feel for the characters to be never fully realized. An example of this is during dinner when Michelle is speaking with her father, tears in her eyes, when suddenly she is forced to return to a neutral position along with the rest of the ensemble to announce a subheading for the section of the play they are in. This attempt at a sort of Brechtian withdrawal felt jarring and completely took me out of what was a very beautiful and believable moment. The piece at its core is undoubtedly coming from a good place; it is simply a shame there seems to be too much else occurring to see that core clearly.
(The Last Seder plays at Theatre Three, 311 West 43rd Street, 3rd Floor, through January 13, 2013. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8PM; and Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are $18. For tickets, call 212.868.4444 or visit http://www.RosalindProductions.com.)