Review: 'Hartford Stage's The Engagement Party': Craft At Its Very Best

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Let’s hear it for craft — that often neglected or outre skillset that when in perfect working order, can turn a fine rhinestone into a glittering diamond.

Too often craft is seen as a dirty word at a time in the theater where “authenticity”, ”serious intentions”” and
”daring concepts” are supposed to be enough, where the dramaturgy is simply sloppy, and where you feel no one dared to challenge the script on behalf of the audience.

Ah, craft, wherest art tho?

At Hartford Stage, that’s wherest :”The Engagement Party” is playing and which had me thoroughly engaged and engrossed through the final seconds of the fast-paced 85 minute production,.

It’s one of those plays where it’s difficult to talk about the plot without spoiling at least some of the surprises. And in a work that has so many twists and turns it’s easy to see how a lesser playwright than Samuel Baum might fudge a fact, make a character a bit inconsistent, or reveal information in a slipshod way. But under the direction of Darko Tresnjak who worked with the playwright in its development , it’s a masterful piece of playwriting machinery that delivers — and is delicious fun to watch — and talk about after the play, too.,

This is what I can tell you abbot the play:

In a swank Manhattan apartment — and Alexander Dodge has created yet another jaw-dropping, Rubic’s Cube of a set that turns as often as the plot — a young handsome couple are having an engagement party. He has worked his way up from a working class ‘hood. to become — in Tom Woolf’s world, one of the Wall Street “masters of the universe.” She is the beautiful daughter of a Wasp-y, snobby financier and an everything-is-wonderful wife. They arrive first, along with their closest friends with various histories to each other..

Then something happens which raises a kind of who-did-it question. (Don’t worry. No blood is spilled; just wine.)

Loyalties are challenged, doubts are raised, histories resurface, and morals are questioned .

And yes, there is a wonderfully satisfying conclusion.

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And there’s not a loose end in sight. Sure, some of the characters — especially with the zippy, intermission length — could use more detail, coloring, history: in fact all of the female characters need to be give a bit more,,, especially since this production is sure to move on — and should.

There’s not many shows such as “The Engagement Party” that gives an audience so much pleasure in being unnerved, that plays with our expectations, that teases, taunts and yet still ultimately deliver the goods. With a splendid cast, top-notch production values and writing that is so masterfully done, I cannot imagine this play not becoming the new classic of its kind.

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