At first it felt a little weird thinking about a pesach seder within in 24 hours of ending the Yom Kippur fast but the thought soon drifted away as the action on stage unfolded during Park Square Theatre’s Sunday matinee performance of The Last Seder. For the next 95 minutes, it was all about the matzah. And family: for better or for worse, through laughter and through tears.
The play opens as the four Price daughters are coming back home for Passover. On the multi-level set, cleverly designed to eliminate some of the problems other productions of the play have had, we see all of the girls traveling from different places. Claire (Mo Perry) and her fiance Jon (E.J. Subkoviak) come in a U-Haul. Angel (Ali Rose Dachis), clearly the baby, rolls up her sleeping bag and comes in off the street, still longing for the neighbor boy, Luke (Andre Samples). Pregnant Julia (Shannon Jankowski) comes accompanied by her life partner Jane (Virginia S. Burke).
With almost everybody coming home with a partner, it’s no surprise that middle daughter Michelle (Maggie Chestovich) doesn’t want to go home without a boyfriend yet again. She stops an unsuspecting schmuck in the train station and spends a minute trying to convince him she’s not crazy before inviting him to travel home with her by explaining that this will be the last seder in the family home. Her father Marvin (Gabrielle Angieri) has Alzheimer’s and their mother Lily (Karen Landry) is selling the house to pay for the care facility they’ll be placing him in. Michelle is surprised when Kent (John Egan) agrees to come – even if the audience isn’t.
And when the gang’s all back home – a day early in their mother’s head – they’re also greeted by Harold Freedman (Allen Hamilton), another neighbor. He’s clearly close to the family and it doesn’t take long to realize that he’s closer to Lily than ever. Amidst the chaos, Marvin yells from the bathtub that Lily has forgotten him in. And, like any good Jewish family reunion, it just gets crazier from there. Replete with plenty of cussing, a little bit of nudity (comedic not erotic) and plenty of talk about sex, there are plenty of laughs to accompany the play’s more serious themes.
Others have said that The Last Seder tries to pack in too many plot lines which leaves little room for character development. While that’s certainly a valid criticism, it didn’t ruin the play for me or my theater companion, Jewish educator Amy Ariel. Both of us found it to be cathartic (and yes, maybe we were primed for an emotional reaction after the holiday) and we both agreed that it reminded us of our own families in some ways. Yes, it was pretty obvious how the plot would unfold but that didn’t stop us from laughing out loud or even welling up with tears at the play’s climax. For the record, we were not the only one’s sniffling – the ladies behind us were digging in their purses for tissues too. As the lights came up in the theater, Amy and I remarked to each other how it was clearly a story that anybody with a family could relate to.
I wish that all of you had the chance to see the play like I did – with a Jewish educator who was eager to discuss some of the nuances that would only be picked up on by somebody with some Jewish learning. Amy noticed that the Price family completed the seder out of order which paralleled the out-of-orderness that accompanies Alzheimer’s. We talked about how the program booklet didn’t really explain what the seder is – instead focusing on what’s on the seder plate – an explanation that would surely help better contextualize the play for those less familiar with the rituals. We wondered if the playwright was making a statement when Lily states “we’re reform – that means we’re flexible.” And we wanted to correct the yenta behind us who whispered (not as quietly as she thought) that “[the Price family] must not be reform because they wouldn’t be wearing kippahs to the seder.”
I’ve told my mom that she should get some friends together to go see the play and I think you should see it too.
The Last Seder runs through October 3rd at the Park Square Theatre in St. Paul. Parking is easy, the theater’s new seats are cushy (with lumbar support too!) and new technical features (lighting, acoustics, etc) make the experience even better. Tickets are $36-$56 (only $15 if you’re under 30). For more information, visit Park Square’s website: ParkSquareTheatre.org.
If you want to see the play for free, click this link to our contest for 2 free tickets to the Saturday, Sept. 25th show. (Enter by Wed for your chance to win).
*The FTC made me do it: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received two complimentary tickets to The Last Seder for so that I could review the show for TC Jewfolk. But getting the tickets for free doesn’t mean that I was obligated to give a glowing review. I wouldn’t recommend anything that I don’t think you’d enjoy.
(Photos: Petronella Ytsma for Park Square Theatre)