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How "The Assembled Parties" Was Assembled for MTC Inside Richard Greenberg's 10th visit to the same theatre

By MARK PEIKERT

By now, it's hard to imagine Manhattan Theatre Club without playwright Richard Greenberg. After all, his Tony-nominated drama The Assembled Parties, now on Broadway at the Samuel J. Friedman, marks his 10th collaboration with the company, following earlier productions like Three Days of Rain, The American Plan, and Eastern Standard.

"It's been something like a quarter century now. It's home," Greenberg says.

The Assembled Parties began as a commission from MTC, and that assignment was prompted by the playwright's rapport with artistic director Lynne Meadow. "After all these years, suddenly they called me and we had a meeting," Greenberg says. "I made them come to my diner. That was a power trip!"

Starring Jessica Hecht, Jeremy Shamos, and Tony nominee Judith Light, The Assembled Parties is a heartbreaking look at one Upper West Side family on Christmas Day in both 1980 and 2000, offering a poignant examination of how memories and betrayals continue to haunt us.

Working on the commission offered Greenberg a respite from his simultaneous work of adapting two other properties: Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's for a brief Broadway run earlier this season, and the film Far From Heaven, which will premiere at Playwrights Horizons as a musical later this month. Working from other writers' words made writing his own play irresistible, though Greenberg admits that he wrote most of the three pieces in "great batches," rather than swiveling from one to another. "They all just happened to be produced the same week, which was neither my expectation nor my choice," he says.

As Greenberg assembled The Assembled Parties, MTC's status as a non-profit company worked in his favor. "Sometimes you can shirk development, but it's a really lovely thing that every time I had a new draft, I could have a reading [with MTC]," he says. "They're set up to do it. They have the room; they have the casting department; they have the dramaturg. It's great; it's luxurious; it's just very sensible. There's something about commercial productions that's inevitably improvised because you're constantly having to raise the money, but to have the proverbial well-oiled machine working for your show works out great!"

Greenberg admits he can sometimes be guilty of settling because one can write characters, but one cannot "order up people." If actors, as he puts it, "are doing A and B and C beautifully and having a little trouble with D," then he's willing to shrug it off. As the director on The Assembled Parties, however, Meadow was having none of that. "Lynne says, 'No, I want D,' and she goes out and gets it," Greenberg explains. "And it turns out that these actors, who are so wonderful at A and B and C, can give you D if you insist on it. It might not be the most natural thing for them---but that's why they call it acting."

Mark Peikert is the N.Y. bureau chief at Backstage magazine
Photo by Joan Marcus