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BWW Review: Richard Nelson Closes Out His Pandemic Trilogy With INCIDENTAL MOMENTS OF THE DAY

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The latest in the playwright/director's Rhinebeck Panorama has the Apple siblings facing new beginnings.

When playwright/director Richard Nelson introduced Public Theater audiences to a family of Rhinebeck, New York residents by the surname Apple, he referred to his creation as a "disposable play." Well, it's been nearly ten years and, thankfully, he hasn't disposed of the Apples yet.

BWW Review: Richard Nelson Closes Out His Pandemic Trilogy With INCIDENTAL MOMENTS OF THE DAY
Top: Jay O. Sanders, Maryann Plunkett and Sally Murphy.
Bottom: Stephen Kunken and Charlotte Bydwell
(Photo: Jason Ardizzone-West)

Opening on election night 2010, THAT HOPEY CHANGEY THING was frequently described as Chekhovian, centered on three adult sisters and members of their family; educated, cultured white liberals living in a quaint Dutchess County community, not too far a drive from NYC. Their low-key discussions about personal issues subtly referred to the national conversations of its time.

The drama's popularity led Nelson to write three more Apple plays performed primarily by the same excellent ensemble of actors, including Maryann Plunkett and Laila Robins as schoolteachers Barbara and Marian Apple, and Jay O. Sanders as their lawyer brother Richard. (J. Smith-Cameron originated the role of their freelance writer sibling Jane, which has been subsequently played by Sally Murphy.)

Rather than disposing, Nelson then set the Apples aside to create similarly-themed plays about neighboring families, with the now 11-piece cycle being regarded as his Rhinebeck Panorama.

But with the current pandemic reimagining live theatre, at least for now, through video and streaming platforms, Nelson has brought back the Apples to reflect the life adjustments Americans have been making. In April, WHAT DO WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT? had the siblings (and Jane's live-in boyfriend Tim, an actor played by Stephen Kunken) taking their initial try at videoconferencing a family meal via Zoom. In July, AND SO WE COME FORTH documented a similar gathering, with the spring's fresh attitudes towards sudden unemployment and masked social distancing evolving into summer's gloom over intense loneliness and the uncertainty of the future.

Now, with INCIDENTAL MOMENTS OF THE DAY: The Apple Family: Life on Zoom, Nelson proports to be wrapping up this pandemic grouping and there's a sense of new beginnings in separate directions.

For one thing, this is the first play in the entire series where most of the characters are not situated in Rhinebeck. Richard, who has been living with Barbara since early in the year when she was stricken with COVID-19, has decided to leave his position with Governor Cuomo's administration, and the two of them are in the Albany apartment he'll soon be vacating, packing up his belongings. (In real life, Sanders and Plunkett are married, so their characters can share the same screen.)

Marian, who was seriously suffering from loneliness and a need for human contact in the previous play, isn't seen in much of this one because she's out on her first date in over seven months. Tim, who has recently retained custody of his teenage daughter, is now living with her at his childhood home in Amherst, where his ailing mother resides in an assisted living facility.

BWW Review: Richard Nelson Closes Out His Pandemic Trilogy With INCIDENTAL MOMENTS OF THE DAY
Top: Maryann Plunkett and Sally Murphy.
Bottom: Laila Robins
(Photo: Jason Ardizzone-West)

While Nelson has yet to directly mention Black Lives Matter in any of these contemporary plays, INCIDENTAL MOMENTS OF THE DAY contains the series' most open discussions of racism, which exposes the Apples as people who, although sincere in their belief in progressive values, remain naïve about the lives of people who don't look like them.

There's an uncertainty among them when discussing a friend in an unspecified situation who feared being called racist if she stood up for herself. And they seem sympathetic when learning of a Canadian theatre company that defended their production of a play about indigenous people that didn't include any indigenous actors with at letter stating, "We are all one people" sharing "a common humanity."

So when Lucy (Charlotte Bydwell) a former student of Barbara's who's now a professional dancer, checks in from Angers, France to entertain the group with a routine choreographed to Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag", their enjoyment is tinged with the knowledge that some may deem this white woman's eccentric steps to a Black man's music as cultural appropriation.

But though such moments do stand out, that's not to say Nelson's tone is accusatory. Like all of us, the Apples have been improvising through new experiences in 2020 and in that sense, there is a common humanity that bonds us all.

INCIDENTAL MOMENTS OF THE DAY may be viewed for free at Viewers are ask to consider making a donation to The Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation in the US and the Theatre Artists Fund in the UK.

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From This Author Michael Dale