A ring goes missing in “The Engagement Party.” Not just any ring, but the pricey symbol Josh (Jonah Platt) offered Katherine (Bella Heathcote) when he asked her to marry him. As gestures of young love go, this sparkling promise set him back a whopping $300,000 and came with a rock so big it can be seen from the back row of the Geffen Playhouse, where Samuel Baum’s slyly unpredictable play keeps audiences guessing about a lot more than what might have happened to the disappearing diamond.
Directed by Tony winner Darko Tresnjak (a veteran of Hartford Stage, where the show premiered in 2019), this sharp, tight one-act takes place in an elegant Manhattan penthouse that looks posh enough at first. It gets even fancier when the whole stage rotates to reveal its additional rooms, including an obscene two-story kitchen where wine bottles that cost more than most people’s salaries are uncorked and decanted.
The walls may be white, but this is the proverbial glass house. Stones will be thrown. Over 75 minutes, the altar-bound couple will find reason to reconsider their friends, their families and their future plans. The cracks start around class, but grow deeper from there. Katherine comes from old money, while Josh is still getting used to how the stuff smells. Looking like Park Avenue Barbie and Ken, the pair have invited her parents, Conrad (Richard Bekins) and Gail (Wendy Malick), as well as four longtime friends to celebrate the union.
There’s Alan (Mark Jacobson), a platonic pal who clearly wishes Katherine were marrying him instead, along with Katherine’s freshman roommate from Harvard, Haley (Lauren Worsham), and her husband, Kai (Brian Lee Huynh). Last to arrive is Johnny (Brian Patrick Murphy), Josh’s comically uncouth childhood bestie, who’s far below the other guests’ (Ivy) league in intellect or income, but just might be the only sincere person at the party.
Practically everyone is keeping secrets of some kind, though they likely would have stayed hidden if not for the ring thing. When Katherine’s jewel vanishes toward the end of the meal, Josh — who’s been a perfect gentleman and seemingly ideal partner until such point — starts to lose his cool. Diamonds don’t just disappear, so it doesn’t take him long to conclude that someone must have palmed it.
Baum has written each of the characters to have some motive for swiping the ring, which is all the invitation the audience needs to start playing whodunnit from among the suspects. Still, it’s one thing for a roomful of strangers to prejudge people they’ve never met, but it doesn’t bode well if Josh — who supposedly loves his wife, as well as her friends and family — can so easily be led to think the worst of them. Baum crams a lot of psychology into his astonishingly simple premise.
Platt, the prom king-looking actor who plays Josh, is giving a double performance here, since his character is only pretending to be comfortable in the posh life he’s created for himself. Fleeting references to his working-class past suggest he clawed his way up the ladder, rejecting help from Katherine’s parents along the way — there’s even a mention that Conrad knew him first, which complicates (and maybe outright contradicts) her later questions about how these lovebirds met.
In any case, Josh’s perch is a lot less stable than he’d like to think, and the play is partly about fighting for love, but also about money, power and some people’s determination to write their own fates. The ring’s disappearance threatens to unravel everything. If Josh can just figure out which of these characters swiped it, then his world will return to normal, or so he believes. But in truth, his reaction — specifically, his suspicion — has thrown the polite façade of all these relationships into question. And that’s before the big reveal, a shocker which it’ll take a lot more than a ring to resolve.