Theatre Review: Neil Simon Meets Agatha Christie in “The Engagement Party” at the Geffen Playhouse

L-R: Mark Jacobson, Brian Lee Huynh, Wendie Malick, Lauren Worsham, Richard Bekins, Bella Heathcote, Jonah Platt and Brian Patrick Murphy in The Engagement Party at Geffen Playhouse. Photo by Justin Bettman.
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Center Stage With…
Lady Beverly Cohn Editor-at-Large

It’s unusual for me to begin a review of a play by raving about the set, but Scenic Designer Alexander Dodge put together an extraordinary eye candy set consisting of three revolving stories, with each room beautifully decorated with designer furniture befitting the Park Avenue home of Katherine and Josh,
wonderfully characterized by Bella Heathcote and Jonah Platt, respectively.

 L-R: Wendie Malick and Richard Bekins in The Engagement Party at Geffen Playhouse. Written by Samuel BaumDirected by Darko Tresnjak. Photo by Jeff Lorch.

The set is a perfect frame for the West Coast premiere of “The Engagement Party,” written by Samuel Baum and meticulously directed by Darko Tresnjak who shapes uniformly excellent performances. In between hugs and kisses, the happy couple are busy getting ready to greet family and friends to
celebrate their engagement. Katherine (Kat) is putting the finishing touches on the festive table set with fine dishware, candles, and sparkling crystal goblets to house the expensive champagne. As they go about their tasks, the happy couple take time out for hugs and kisses and are supremely happy.
The first guests to arrive are Kat’s parents – Conrad, nicely played by Richard Bekins and his wife Gail, well played by Wendie Malick. They are greeted warmly by the newly engaged couple with mom swooning over Kat’s $300,000 engagement ring. Being head of a Hedge Fund does have its financial perks. It appears, however, that Josh worked for Kat’s dad for a short period of time and more about that is revealed later in the action. Next up is Kai (Brian Lee Huynh) who works for Josh. He arrives with his wife Haley (Lauren Worsham) who appears to be a bit fragile. They have a nine-month-old baby and perhaps Haley is experiencing a bit of postpartum blues. Alan (Mark Jacobson) is an old friend and is a college professor of psychology. He is not anywhere near the wealth his friends enjoy but is a good friend nevertheless. The final guest is Johnny, a rough and tough guy wonderfully played by Brian Patrick Murphy. He and Josh have been friends since they were two-years-old. Neither of them came out of wealthy families and they described their living conditions as “shit shanty.” So far, happiness prevails
over the beginning of the evening but the first kink is about to happen. It seems that Kai’s wife is going to interview for a job at a foundation over which Josh’s father-in-law presides. Kai joins Josh in the kitchen and asks if he could put in a good word for his wife, but his friend refuses, which really hurts his
feelings and he becomes angry. Josh leaves Kai in the kitchen and in comes the college professor who sees that Kai is very upset and angry and asks him what’s wrong. Kai unleashes his anger and soon they both return to the dining room as it’s time for dinner and the guests settle down at the elegant dining room table. Conversations ensue and at one point, everyone is curious about her ring. Kat takes it off her finger so it can be passed around the table.

 L-R: Bella Heathcote and Jonah Platt in The Engagement Party at Geffen Playhouse. Directed by Darko Tresnjak. Photo by Jeff Lorch.

In the meantime, Conrad finds out that Haley is interviewing for a job at his foundation and says that she would be a welcome addition, a comment that leaves Josh less than pleased. As the light conversation continues, a champagne toast is made and after a while, Kat asks for the ring to be returned to her but as everyone looks around, it’s nowhere in sight. They remove the tablecloth thinking the ring somehow was underneath, but it was not there – nor was it on the floor or in anyone’s pocket or even behind the
radiator. Kai was the last one to see the ring and he insists that he laid it on the table. Josh is beginning to be convinced that someone stole the ring and the first one who comes to mind is Kai. He quietly goes up to the third-floor bedroom and begins to rifle through Haley’s purse. His friend Johnny tries to
discourage him from doing that. The ring is not in her purse and now Josh begins to think about each guest and who would benefit from stealing his ring. To make matters even worse, Conrad appears in the bedroom and we realize there is really bad blood between them, the reason for which I will not reveal.
By and by, it seems that almost all the guests have a reason to steal the ring and your guess is as good as mine, but I’m not telling you. But, that is not the only surprise as there’s another profound revelation that this excellent script reveals. There are surprises right up to the very last moment.

 L-R: Jonah Platt and Mark Jacobson in The Engagement Party at Geffen Playhouse. Written by Samuel Baum and directed by Darko Tresnjak. Photo by Jeff Lorch.

This production follows the recipe for a hit play. It begins, of course, with terrific script, an imaginative director who knows how to work with actors, a dynamite set augmented with Matthew Richards’ lighting, Joshua Pearson’s elegant costume design, and Jane Shaw’s Original Music and Sound, which
covers the multiple revolving set changes including such chestnuts as “Pennies From Heaven,” “Dukes Place,” “Let’s Get Lost,” and “How Am I To Know,” to name but a few. Mix all these ingredients together and you have a very exciting theatrical experience.

The Engagement Party at Geffen Playhouse. Written by Samuel Baum and directed by Darko Tresnjak. 
Photo by Jeff Lorch

Gill Cates Theatre
The Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Avenue
Los Angeles: CA 90024
Written by: Samuel Baum
Directed by: Darko Tresnjak
Monday & Tuesday: No Performance
Wednesday – Friday: 8:00 pm
Saturday: 3:00 pm & 8:00 pm
Sunday: 2:00 & 7:00 pm
Closing: November 5, 2023
Tickets: $39 – $129
310.208.2028 or
Content Advisory: 
This production contains profanity and adult subject matter.


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