The Engagement Party Review – Whom Do You Trust?

Bella Heathcoate and Jonah Platt in THE ENGAGEMENT PARTY - Photo by Jeff Lorch
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Brilliantly written by Samuel Baum and skillfully directed by Darko Tresnjak, THE ENGAGEMENT PARTY makes its West Coast premiere at the Geffen Playhouse in 2023. Originally produced in Hartford, Connecticut, in 2019, the play has been described as “a masterful piece of playwriting…a theatrical experience worth its 80 minutes in gold.” Reviews praised Baum’s script as “accessible, exciting, and thought-provoking, building just enough tension at just the right time… delivers a shocking twist that no one sees coming.” When asked about the play’s theme, playwright Baum responded, “There’s an old saying, that trust takes a lifetime to build, but it can be destroyed in an instant…I wanted to understand how that happens, why that happens.”

Mark Jacobson, Brian Lee Huynh, Wendie Malick, Lauren Worsham, Richard Bekins, Bella Heathcote, Jonah Plat, and Brian Patrick Murphy – Photo by Justin Bettman

The time is 2007 and the place is an elegant apartment in New York City’s elite upper Manhattan. The champagne is chilled, the hors d’oeuvres are exquisitely arranged, and the table is impeccably set. For this is the engagement party for up-and-coming financier Josh (Jonah Platt) and debutante Katherine (Bella Heathcote). They’ve invited Katherine’s parents Conrad (Richard Bekins) and Gail (Wendie Malick) and some of their closest friends, including Alan (Mark Jacobson), Kai (Brian Lee Buynh), Haley (Lauren Worsham), and down-to-earth Johnny (Brian Patrick Murphy), perhaps Josh’s very oldest and dearest friend. This intimate little group have come together to offer their congratulations to the happy couple. All is going well until a glass of wine spills. In the ensuing chaos, Katherine’s $300,000 diamond engagement ring goes missing. Or does it?

Lauren Worsham, Bella Heathcote, Jonah Platt, Richard Bekins, Wendie Malick, and Mark Jacobson – Photo by Jeff Lorch

THE ENGAGEMENT PARTY is a fascinating mix of drama, mystery, whodunit, and soul-searching questions, a tale of lies, half-truths, misunderstandings, and possible treachery.  As tension very slowly and inexorably builds up, unavoidable questions begin to surface. Whom can you trust and depend upon? Whom can you believe? Parents? Close friends? Lovers? Baum’s script is tight and carefully drawn, with each event inevitably tied to every other event with an invisible but unalterable cord – even if some of the connections escape notice until the final moments. Director Tresnjak helms the production with a sure hand as long-held secrets begin to creep into the light. In no small part, he is amply assisted by excellent performances from each of the people in that doomed party.

Wendie Malick, Richard Bekins, Bella Heathcote, and Jonah Platt – Photo by Jeff Lorch

Kudos to Alexander Dodge’s clever and fascinating scenic design, so essential to tell the story and yet so subtle in presentation. Joshua Pearson’s costumes are perfect for the partygoers: they also offer artful nonverbal cues into each character’s personality. Matthew Richards’ lighting and Jane Shaw’s original music and sound design round out a flawless production team.

Jonah Platt and Brian Lee Huynh – Photo by Jeff Lorch

THE ENGAGEMENT PARTY is a must-see production for all theater goers. It is evocative, provocative, involving, and thought-provoking. It is also one of the most entertaining shows this season. Whether you enjoy drama, comedy, mystery, or any other genre in plays, you will find something to grip and entice you in THE ENGAGEMENT PARTY.

Brian Patrick Murphy – Photo by Jeff Lorch

THE ENGAGEMENT PARTY runs through November 5, 2023, with performances at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays. The Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse is located at 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024. Tickets range from $39 to $129. For information and reservations, call 310-208-2028 or go online.


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