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BWW Review: Richard Nelson Continues His Rhinebeck Panorama with AND SO WE COME FORTH: THE APPLE FAMILY: A DINNER ON ZOOM

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"I was lying in the bath last night. And it just occurred to me, I all of a sudden realized: I have not touched another human being for over three months."

It was late April when playwright/director Richard Nelson granted playgoers a return visit with the Apples of Rhinebeck, New York; that family of educated, artistic-minded white liberals who were the subject of the opening quartet of the now 10-play series called his Rhinebeck Panorama.

BWW Review:  Richard Nelson Continues His Rhinebeck Panorama with AND SO WE COME FORTH: THE APPLE FAMILY: A DINNER ON ZOOM
Clockwise: Jay O. Sanders, Maryann Plunkett,
Sally Murphy, Stephen Kunken and Laila Robins
(Photo: Jason Ardizzone-West)

Written to be performed on Zoom by the actors in their own separate residencies, WHAT DO WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT? had sisters Barbara (Maryann Plunkett), Jane (Sally Murphy) and Marian (Laila Robins) gathering on the conferencing website with their brother Richard (Jay O. Sanders) and Jane's live-in partner Tim (Stephen Kunken) for a virtual family dinner as they adjust to the challenges of living in the world of COVID-19.

Now, in AND SO WE COME FORTH: THE APPLE FAMILY: A DINNER ON ZOOM (available for free on YouTube for 8 weeks, though a donation to The Actors Fund is requested), the strains of isolation and social distancing are beginning to show in a sixty-minute play that, as with all of his Rhinebeck pieces, takes place on the day it premieres and mixes family events with the political and social issues of the time.

The above yearning for human touch is expressed by elementary school teacher Marian , who is teased by Richard for having a new "gentleman caller", a stranger who's been timing his dog walks past her house whenever she's been in her front yard gardening. The potential creepiness of the situation seems blurred by Marian's loneliness.

Since Sanders and Plunkett are a married couple, Nelson established in the last play that lawyer Richard has been staying at high school history teacher Barbara's home after her hospital stay due to coronavirus, allowing them to share a screen. The gregarious brother seems to be getting on his introverted sister's nerves as he fusses over the presentation of their take-out Indian food dinner. For some, loneliness would be a welcome diversion.

Since Murphy and Kunken do not live together, the playwright has been devising ways to keep free-lance writer Jane and actor/restaurant manager Tim separated. Last time, they were quarantined in separate rooms. Now, Tim is in Brooklyn visiting the daughter has his with his ex.

One can almost sense a checklist of issues Nelson lightly touches upon in their conversations. There's the matter of a woman using a code word on the telephone to communicate that she's quarantined in an abusive situation, as well as a story of a white woman misunderstanding a Black man's intentions.

Tim brings up the increasingly bleak future of those in the acting profession and Barbara reads a letter from a friend who grew up in the Soviet Union, expressing a fear of what can be easily exposed about individuals via the Internet.

BWW Review:  Richard Nelson Continues His Rhinebeck Panorama with AND SO WE COME FORTH: THE APPLE FAMILY: A DINNER ON ZOOM
Clockwise: Jay O. Sanders, Maryann Plunkett,
Sally Murphy, Stephen Kunken and Laila Robins
(Photo: Jason Ardizzone-West)

"When everybody starts keeping an eye on everybody else hoping to catch an awkward word or phrase and report it to - authorities. I have been there. I have lived that."

There are no direct discussions of protests, Black Lives Matter or the practice some have labeled as Cancel Culture, but the point of Nelson's Rhinebeck plays have always been to show how the issues of the day have crept into aspects of these particular (yes, white and privileged and somewhat isolated from cultural diversity) lives. The ability to get an amateur haircut is celebrated.

While WHAT DO WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT? had the advantage of taking the series into a new virtual venue, AND SO WE COME FORTH, which gets its name from Dante's "Inferno", feels more like a bridge to something else than a self-sustaining play, though the extraordinary ensemble, some of whom have been playing Apples since 2010, never cease to fascinate with their detailed naturalism.

With at least six months to go before New York's major playhouses are back in business, the safe bet is to expect more Rhinebeck excursions to come.


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From This Author Michael Dale