A People’s Exodus, and a Family’s

The New York Times

By DANIEL M. GOLD Published: December 28, 2012

There seems to be a calendar malfunction with the presentation of “The Last Seder” at Theater Three. The eight-day Jewish December holiday that ended recently is Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. Passover and its Seder, the traditional meal and retelling of the exodus from Egypt? That’s in the spring.

No matter. This gentle, comic drama by Jennifer Maisel about a family coming together during a difficult time features simmering tensions that can occur at any time of year.

The four grown daughters of Lily and Marvin Price make their way, along with their guests, to the old homestead on Long Island. Instead of a joyous reunion, the Seder is freighted with sadness: Marvin is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, Lily is about to move him into nursing care, and the house, now for sale, is in an unsettled state, with pieces of the girls’ childhood unearthed and up for grabs.

While the addled Marvin can’t recognize his daughters most of the time, they have other issues: Julia, a therapist who has brought her partner, Jane, is pregnant; Claire, the lawyer, can’t commit to her fiancé, Jon, about the wedding and having a child; Michelle, the skittish artist, invites along a stranger, Kent; and Angel, the free-spirited youngest, brings Luke, an old boyfriend. Even Lily has her admirer, Harold next door.

With cast members and subplots so numerous, the play has a hard time getting traction; an opening monologue by Michelle, for example, could be dispensed with entirely.

For the most part, though, and much to the credit of the director, Jessica Bauman, “The Last Seder” runs smoothly. The acting is just adequate at times, but Greg Mullavey, as Marvin and Kathryn Kates, as Lily are standouts.

Mr. Mullavey is unafraid to portray the demeaning effects of Alzheimer’s before flashing glimpses of the splendid father and husband Marvin once was; Ms. Kates slides knowingly into the demanding role of Lily, furious at her lot but determined not to despair.

Despite the problems, Ms. Maisel has sketched a touching portrait of an aging family facing enormous change. While inside-Seder information — about the 4 sons, the 10 plagues, Elijah’s cup — is dispensed as freely as macaroons, her play is steeped in universal themes audiences of any affiliation can appreciate. If the ending feels too pat, with a resolution that isn’t necessary, it’s in the spirit of thanks for blessings received — a mindfulness that’s always in season.

© 2023 Jessica Bauman
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