When a young woman plans a Bris (that is, a Jewish ritual circumcision), she encounters an onslaught of relatives, hotel personnel, party planners, and a villainous Hadassah octogenarian. That's the plot of Miriam Kouzel Billington, Peter Goldman and David Presby's comedy, 431 Of My Closest Friends, playing at Off-Broadway's Jewish Repertory Theatre.
Subtitled "A Shonda In Two Acts" (shonda is Yiddish for "shame"), the play is directed by Peter Goldman and features Billington as the party planner, and Presby as every other character she encounters. The show comes to New York after running for eight months at Los Angeles' Theatre/Theater.
Asked whence the idea for the play emerged, co-writer and actor David Presby explained that Peter Goldman spent about eight years running a children's theatre in L.A. "Peter was just amazed that these parents were spending thousands of dollars on parties for one-year-olds. Me, too. I used to do clown stuff and work children's parties. I'd go to these things dressed up as big birds, and these one-year-old kids were just terrified. But the parents wanted their parties..."
Presby, Goldman and Billington all went to Northwestern University together and then stayed in touch afterwards. They created 431 Of My Closest Friends as a group effort. "We'd all write scenes," remembers Presby, "bring what we had and then mishmash them together."
Asked about the challenges of playing every other character in the show besides the female lead, Presby noted, "I love all the characters..the Rabbi, the party-planning lady... I have 25 costume changes, most of them under ten seconds -- some three and a half!" Presby credited dresser Michael Lombardo for easing the transitions. Once the Jewish Rep run ends, the company hope to take Closest Friends to -- where else? -- Florida. They're also "champing at the bit" to get back to a new play they started back in L.A. "It's still untitled," says Presby, "but it's a comedy."
Settings and costumes for the show are by Michael Bottari and Ronald Case; lighting is by Jeremy Kumin. Jewish Repertory Theatre's current home is the 299-seat Playhouse 91 space on East 91st Street.
For tickets and information on 431 Of My Closest Friends, which was supposed to end Nov. 3 but has extended to (at least) Nov. 17, call Jewish Repertory at (212) 831-2000.
-- By David Lefkowitz