Review: The Engagement Party at the Geffen, a stunning gem with a surprise ring to it

 It’s not a surprise engagement party that is the center of all the drama, but the party is full of surprises. The Engagement Party is playing in the Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, October 12 through November 5, 2023.

The Engagement Party cast, photo by Justin Bettman

 This is the West Coast premiere of The Engagement Party from playwright Samuel Baum. It is described as “a secret-laden comedy that takes a dark and unexpected turn when a celebration goes horribly awry, irrevocably changing the lives of everyone involved.” But actually there’s only a touch of comedy in it to lighten the moments of tension that ebb and flow thanks to the brilliant direction of Tony Award winner Darko Tresnjak (A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder, Anastasia).

 Tresnjak is helped by Scenic Designer Alexander Dodge’s multi-dimensional swanky Park Avenue apartment set, which gives him lots of room to explore the emotional journeys of the cast of characters.

Richard Bekins, Wendie Malick and Bella Heathcote in The Engagement Party. Photo by Jeff Lorch.

  All characters are perfectly cast in their roles thanks to Casting Director Phyllis Schuringa, CSA. And all are wickedly outstanding as they reveal the fragile dynamics of the relationships between lovers, parents, and friends, with trust issues that percolate just below the surface.

Mark Jacobson, Jonah Platt, Bella Heathcote in The Engagement Party Photo:Jeff-Lorch

  A young couple gathers family and friends to celebrate their engagement. As the fiancé Josh, Jonah Platt does a Yeoman’s job as the earnest Brooklyn-born guy who worked hard to shed his blue-collar background, yet remembers all the struggles that got him to this moment. The nuances in Platt’s performance are perfection. Speaking of perfection, as Katherine, the ultra-chic bride-to-be with a $300,000 engagement ring, willowy Bella Heathcote glows as the privilege but nice Grace Kelly type. As her country club parents, Richard Bekins plays Conrad with the airs of a Mayflower descendent, and Wendie Malick is blissful as Gail, a Southern gal with failing health.

Brian Patrick Murphy in The Engagement Party. Photo by Jeff Lorch

A spilled glass of wine triggers resentments and exposes secrets shared by the longtime friends who have gathered. Harvard classmates Alan (a professorial Mark Jacobson) and married couple Haley (strong and independent Lauren Worsham) and Kai (Brian Lee Huynh offering a range of honest emotions) seem genuinely happy for Katherine and Josh. So does Josh’s childhood friend Johnny from Canarsie, played with street-wise gusto by Brian Patrick Murphy, offering the most laughs and wisdom.

  There was a magnificent moment during the show when a collective gasp was heard from the audience at the first of the big reveal moments. “Whoa, didn’t see that coming,” was going through everyone’s mind. The communal theatrical experience is pure gold, as is The Engagement Party for its 80 minutes with no intermission.

  The Engagement Party runs through Nov. 5 at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue in Westwood. Show times are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00pm, Saturday matinees at 3:00pm, and Sundays at 2:00 and 7:00pm. For tickets call 310-208-2028 or online at

Margie Barron has written for a wide variety of outlets including Gannett newspapers, Nickelodeon, Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, Fresh!, Senior Life, Production Update, airline magazines, etc. Margie is also proud to have been half of the husband & wife writing team Frank & Margie Barron, who had written together for various entertainment and travel publications for more than 38 years.