311 West 43rd St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves., third floor
Extended through January 13, $18-$30
Jennifer Maisel’s The Last Seder mimics the experience of actually being at a Seder in more ways than one: waiting through a longish exposition until the actual dinner starts. At many American seders every year, there are often numerous participants who can’t wait for the declaration of Shulchan Orech, the start of the festive meal. What comes before — the traditional telling of the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt during the reign of Ramses II — can often go on and on, as some family members are riveted and others bored silly, desperately in need of the next ritual glass of wine. Such is the case with The Last Seder, which has just been extended at Theatre Three through January 13. The Price family is gathering for Passover at the family homestead in East Rockaway for the final time, as the house is being sold so that patriarch Marvin (Greg Mullavey, so effective earlier this year as a Holocaust survivor in The Soap Myth), suffering from Alzheimer’s, can be moved into a group residence because his wife, Lily (Kathryn Kates), can no longer take care of him by herself despite her best efforts. Their four daughters join them, each of whom brings her own baggage to the table: the oldest, Julia (Sarah Winkler), is a pregnant therapist having a baby with her girlfriend, Jane (Mélisa Breiner-Sanders); Claire (Abigail Rose Solomon), the second oldest, has been with tech geek Jon (Eric T. Miller) for many years but can’t commit to marriage; Michelle (Gaby Hoffmann), the third oldest, is still trying to find herself and invites a stranger she meets in Penn Station, Kent (Ryan Barry), to come to the Seder with her and pretend to be her boyfriend so she doesn’t have to answer questions about being alone; and Angel (Natalie Kuhn), the wild, adventurous youngest daughter, is still obsessed with her neighbor boyfriend, the black Luke (Andy Lucien), so she is unable to go on with her life. In addition, family friend Harold (John Michalski) is hanging around, perhaps a little too closely, with Lily.
The first half of The Last Seder is filled with little squabbles, bigger fights, a night of romance (in which all of the couples come together in one way or another at the same time), and myriad ideas and subplots thrown around all at once as Maisel attempts to tackle too many issues; focusing on fewer would have made for a tighter structure. Director Jessica Bauman uses the unique conceit of showing characters in bed or asleep as standing figures clutching sheets at their necks, which sometimes can confuse the audience about what exactly is going on. Gabriel Evansohn’s set, a tilted roof sticking out of the floor, also causes confusion, sometimes serving as an actual roof, and other times, well, it’s not quite clear what it is. But all those problems are washed away once the family sits down for the Seder, which turns into a spectacularly beautiful and moving event that will have you weeping with both sadness and joy. Sharply written without being overly sentimental, the Seder captures each character’s situation with intelligence and grace, tenderly displaying their humanity and showing just what it means to be a family. Regardless of religious belief, each person takes part in the proceedings, leading to a heartbreaking finale that you will never forget. It will stay with you at Seders to come — and make you want to attend a Seder if you never have before.