BWW Review: Richard Nelson Concludes His Election Year Trilogy With WOMEN OF A CERTAIN AGE
It can be safely assumed that the majority of playgoers filing into The Public's LuEsther Theater for the 7:30 opening night performance of author/director Richard Nelson's Women Of a Certain Age on Tuesday night took their seats expecting to see Hillary Clinton declared the President-Elect of The United States sometime during the party that followed.
The text for the last of his trilogy of plays taking place in the kitchen of the left-leaning, financially struggling Gabriel family of Rhinebeck, New York was frozen at 3:30pm on November 8th, 2016, four hours before the reviewing press got to see it. As with the previous two, as well as with the quartet of plays Nelson premiered at The Public from 2010-2013 featuring members of another Rhinebeck family, the financially stable Apples, the action was set on the same day as the opening performance.
Beginning with HUNGRY, which opened in March, and continuing with WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?, which opened in September, the collective title of the trio of intimate dramas is "The Gabriels: Election Year In The Life of One Family," and they offered an opportunity for audiences to compare their own feelings about the long campaigning season with the fictional family. The surprising outcome of the election will no doubt affect the way viewers see the plays in future performances.
Unlike the Apple plays, which can stand alone effectively, the Gabriel dramas require a sequential viewing to fully understand the plot and relationships. However, newcomers to the series can still be enthralled by Nelson's beautifully subtle dialogue and naturalistic staging played by a superior ensemble of stage actors.
At the center of the trilogy is the touching work of Maryann Plunkett as Mary Gabriel, the recent widow of a successful playwright and novelist, Thomas. Mary's license to practice medicine has expired and she's about to lose the family home due to a poor financial decision by the deceased's mother, Patricia (Roberta Maxwell).
Thomas' first wife, Karin (Meg Gibson), an actor, rents a room in the house as has been searching through her ex's papers trying to find an undiscovered play or novel that might bring in some money. With acting job offers scarce, she's put together a solo play where she portrays Hillary Clinton.
Thomas' brother, George (Jay O. Sanders) is a carpenter and piano teacher without much business sense. His wife, Hannah (Lynn Hawley), has been taking work as a hotel maid, but they're no longer able to afford to pay for their son Paulie's college education. The only one getting by well enough is George's sister, Joyce (Amy Warren), who works in theatre as an assistant costume designer.
As with the two previous plays, the action is simply the conversation that occurs as they all prepare the evening's dinner. Nelson doesn't offer bluntly expository dialogue, so bits and pieces of their individual situations are gradually made clear to the audience, which is seated on three sides.
While the election doesn't dominate the conversation, it's clear that the Gabriels fear their personal futures under a Trump presidency and are cautious about their confidence in Clinton.
"She's going to win," Mary assures, "because the other is unthinkable."
WOMEN OF A CERTAIN AGE is scheduled to end its limited run before the January 20th inauguration, attracting audiences who will attend with their knowledge not only of Donald Trump's win, but of the protests and acts of violence that have followed Election Day, as well as the controversies regarding the president-elect's plans for his administration. That added knowledge will surely add a chill to the final moments, where Mary is unaware that she'll soon be preparing to face the unthinkable.