BWW Interview: Laila Robins Talks THE APPLE FAMILY PLAYS at the Public
Actress Laila Robins has seen Broadway, the big screen and the small screen. But lately she has poured her soul onto the off-Broadway stage and into her character 'Marian Apple Platt', a role she originated in 2010 as part of The Apple Family Plays: Scenes from Life in the Country.
Written and directed by Tony winner Richard Nelson, the series is currently in rep at The Public Theater. Nelson's play cycle includes That Hopey Changey Thing, Sweet and Sad and Sorry and will culminate in the world premiere of his fourth and final play -- Regular Singing. The production, like its predecessors, will open on the day it is set: November 22, the 50th Anniversary of JFK's assassination.
BroadwayWorld recently spoke with Robins about the challenges and joys of revisiting 'Marian' afresh and being part of the fictional, liberal Apple family of Rhinebeck, New York, whose actors have become like a family of their own.
So, how was the opening for That Hopey Changey Thing?
It was great. The audience was just so warm. I don't know if they were repeat attendees or new people, but it was really satisfying. It was very nice to feel their energy. And every night's a little different. These plays are very complex, and the audience plays a big part in it. Richard Nelson even says as much in one of his plays that the audience is like another character -- it has a personality as well.
You're doing this for the second time, so what's it like revisiting the plays? Are you learning new things about your character?
You know, when [Richard] wrote Hopey Changey, he hadn't written the other three, and it's interesting to go back. We feel kind of like naïve children who know nothing about what's going to happen to them because some major things happen to some of these characters in the next few plays. Like, in the first play I mention my daughter very casually, and later some major things happen to her. So to go back and see how unknowing I was as a mother about my daughter's state of mind -- we're like little, innocent lambs rolling it back.
In the first play we're a family that love each other, but we haven't been getting together very often, and then by the fourth play, most of us are sort of living in Rhinebeck by then and wanting our brother to come to Rhinebeck, so our relationships get deeper and deeper and deeper and more relaxed and more intense. So it's almost like we have to remember what to forget. [Laughs]. When you go back to the first play, you have to go, 'There are certain things I'm not telling my brother or my sister.' You always have to do a checklist in your head: Which play is this, what do I know and what do I not know?
Have you and the rest of the cast become like a family as you've been playing a family together?
Absolutely. I feel very close to Maryann Plunkett and Jay O. Sanders. And we have two new people this year -- Stephen Kunken has replaced Shuler Hensley and Sally Murphy has replaced J. Smith-Cameron -- but they have fit in so beautifully. I'm astounded at their ability to learn. Sally has learned four plays. I can't even imagine. She's got seven hours of play in her head that she hasn't performed yet.
And I do feel really close to them. We're quite a loving family, you know. We do have our occasional kurfuffles, but we all respect each other so much and trust each other so much. And this material is such that the cues are so tight and there's so many cut-offs, and [Richard] has written in such a naturalistic way. We're so attached to the material now and we're so in tune with each other. And Richard's major thing with us is listen, listen, listen to each other. And it keeps us really super connected, so that if something happens we can help each other out.
I love being in this group, and it's been such a gift for me as an actor to have this kind of company and meeting each other over the last three years and just growing and deepening. It shows you how long you can really study a play. Three years down the line, we've performed these plays, and there's still things that we're discovering. So when the writing is good, I think there's just a depth that we really get to sink our tone into now.