BWW Review: Richard Nelson Adds a New Family To His Intriguing Rhinebeck Panorama with THE MICHAELS

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Of the many common features shared by the eight (thus far) plays that make up playwright/director Richard Nelson's "Rhinebeck Panorama" series, perhaps the most unusual is that they all take place on the date of their opening night at The Public Theater.

BWW Review: Richard Nelson Adds a New Family To His Intriguing Rhinebeck Panorama with THE MICHAELS
Rita Wolf, Maryann Plunkett, Jay O. Sanders
and Haviland Morris (Photo: Joan Marcus)

But in the case of THE MICHAELS, which opened on Sunday, October 27th, this was the first instance where this reviewer noticed a line in the play that could not have been included in any of its previews, involving a world event that made headlines that morning.

From THAT HOPEY-CHANGEY THING, the first of the four "Apple Family Plays," which took place on the day of the first midterm election during Barak Obama's administration, to WOMEN OF A CERTAIN AGE, the last of the trio of plays about the Gabriel family, which took place on Election Day, 2016, politics has always been subtly lurking in the background of every addition to the series, surfacing briefly in each as the depicted families of the left-leaning community of Rhinebeck, New York go about their more personal issues.

Like its predecessors, "Chekhovian" is the more apt adjective that comes to mind for THE MICHAELS, staying within the tradition of being a soft-toned intermissionless, naturalistic drama focused on conversations among the adult members of a family as they prepare for a meal. And like its predecessors, THE MICHAELS, features superb performances by Maryann Plunkett and Jay O. Sanders, each now playing their third character in the panorama.

The audience completely surrounds the kitchen of Rose Michaels (Brenda Wehle), a legendary figure the New York downtown dance scene of decades ago. With her now ex-husband David (Sanders), she founded a troupe that included Sally (Rita Wolf) who is now married to David.

The great love of Rose's life was the now deceased Alice, a fellow dancer, but she's in a new relationship with Kate (Maryann Plunkett), a retired history teacher, who has taken on the role of Rose's caregiver since she was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer.

BWW Review: Richard Nelson Adds a New Family To His Intriguing Rhinebeck Panorama with THE MICHAELS
Brenda Wehle and Charlotte Bydwell
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

The two couples are neighbors, and while all are on friendly terms, Kate, unassociated with the dance world and with Rose's history, is a bit of an outsider.

Especially when the dinner guests include long-time friend and former company dancer Irenie (Haviland Morris), David and Rose's choreographer daughter Lucy (Charlotte Bydwell) and Rose's dancer niece May (Matilda Sakamoto).

While the surroundings are quaint and the conversation is low-key, there is the responsibility of preserving Rose's place as a historic figure in the arts, and the prevailing theme is that of passing along the intangible legacies. Lucy and May have been working on recreating pieces from Rose's past, which they demonstrate in the kitchen while the matriarch offers notes. (The choreography is staged by Sara Rudner, based on work by Dan Wagoner.)

The two young dancers are each considering career opportunities in France, which brings up the subject of how Europeans are regarding Americans in the last few years.

The full name of the piece is THE MICHAELS: CONVERSATIONS DURING DIFFICULT TIMES, suggesting that a future, differently subtitled visit will be coming to The Public. As in an excellent series of novels, the intriguing textures of Nelson's panorama deepen with every new release.

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From This Author Michael Dale