Jennifer Maisel's eyes are bigger than our stomachs in her latest play, 'The Last Seder'
Since the Rockaways were devastated this fall by Hurricane Sandy, the images of the area’s wrecked homes have been broadcast over and over on TV news channels. Maybe that’s why the much smaller storm—a familial disaster—set in the Rockaways in The Last Seder seems like a tempest in a teapot.
Marvin Price is suffering from Alzheimer’s. But before his wife Lily sends him to a nursing home, she invites their four daughters and their partners home to pack up the house and celebrate one last Passover Seder together. Unfortunately, all of the Price women (including Lily) have romantic dramas to deal with, from pregnancy to boyfriend (or lack of boyfriend) trouble. Stick them all in a house together with a patriarch who doesn’t even recognize them, and force them to endure a holiday meal together, and you have The Last Seder.
Trying to squeeze nearly a dozen people and their respective plotlines into a 100-minute one-act means that the characters tend to be shallow, and the dramatic arcs tend to be truncated, in Jennifer Maisel’s script. It’s a shame, because there are a few interesting emotional journeys in The Last Seder, but they get lost in the shuffle of more mundane and sentimental explorations.
At the heart of the show are a few performances that rise above the chatter. Kathryn Kates brings humor and nuance to the central role of Lily, the foul-mouthed matriarch struggling to care for her husband even as she carries on an affair with the widower next door. And as Lily and Marvin’s dutiful daughter Michelle, Gaby Hoffmann creates a complex portrait of a young woman struggling to please her father as he begins to vanish before her eyes. Michelle, a single art teacher, even picks up an enigmatic but well-dressed stranger in Penn Station and brings him home masquerading as a boyfriend in an effort to make Daddy happy; the strange connection that develops between Michelle and Kent (a quite likable Ryan Barry) is the play’s most unexpected delight.
The rest of the story quickly becomes noise, though. A crowded table might make for an entertaining seder, but it makes for a messy play. If The Last Seder could tighten its focus to just the four main characters—Mom, Dad, Michelle, and her new man—dayenu, as we say: that would have been enough for us.
The Last Seder is showing at Theater Three, 311 W. 43rd Street. Tickets are $18. Call 212-868-4444.