by Michael Dale
Playwright Richard Nelson first introduced audiences to the family of Apple siblings with That Hopey Changey Thing, which took place on election night 2010 and, by design, opened on that same night. He pulled the same trick last year with Sweet and Sad, which opened and was set on the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks.
As you might have guessed, his third visit with the Apples, titled Sorry, opened this past Tuesday and, yes, was set on the day of America’s most recent election. Like the previous two, Sorry is an intimate, Chekhovian-style drama centered on the mealtime conversations of a group of adults most easily identified as northeastern liberals. Nelson directs the excellent ensemble, consisting of some of New York’s finest stage actors, which has remained intact for all three productions, save for Shuler Hensley, currently giving an extraordinary performance Off-Broadway in The Whale. Rather than recast, his character does not appear in this one.
It’s 5am in the Rhinebeck home of schoolteacher Barbara Apple (Maryann Plunkett), who lives with her uncle Benjamin (Jon Devries), a former actor who, after a heart attack two years ago, has been losing his memory and the ability to function. She and her divorced sister Marian (Laila Robins), who moved in with them after a personal tragedy, can no longer care for Benjamin properly and have regretfully decided to move him into a care facility for his own safety.
Their sister Jane (J. Smith-Cameron), a writer, is up from the city, pondering over the future of her on-again, off-again relationship with her boyfriend (the Hensley role), currently out of town on an acting gig. (No, he’s not playing a 600 lb. guy Off-Broadway.) Their brother Richard (Jay O. Sanders), who announced in the first play that he had left his position as a lawyer in the State Attorney General's office to join a firm that donates heavily to the Republican Party, is now reconsidering his choice, though he retains his disappointment in the present state of the Democratic Party. (“Do we know what we’re rooting for? I think we know what we’re rooting against. And is that enough? Why have we become ‘not them’?”)
But the play is not a political round table, as discussion about specific current events is kept to a minimum. Instead, Nelson’s characters bring out the mixture of personal events, large and small, that produce a family dynamic. And the superb cast does indeed produce a realistic family dynamic.
Previously intended to be a trilogy, the playwright has announced there will be at least one more visit with the Apples, on the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination. I’ll be sure to clear my calendar.
Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: J. Smith-Cameron and Laila Robins; Bottom: Jon Devries and Maryann Plunkett.
After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Shea Stadium pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.