BWW Review: Richard Nelson Offers a Taste Of A New Rhinebeck Family in HUNGRY
Playwright/director Richard Nelson may have invented a new kind of theatre when THAT HOPEY CHANGEY THING opened on November 2nd, 2010, although it would be helpful to find a shorter designation than "the same-day, Chekhovian-American political family drama."
His opening date for the first of four plays that introduced Public Theater audiences to a family of adults sharing the surname Apple, from Rhinebeck, New York, was also the date the play took place; chosen for being the midterm election day of President Barack Obama's first administration.
Subsequent plays involving the same characters (and people in their lives) took place, and opened on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, Election Day 2012 and the 50th Anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination.
So when it was announced that Nelson had a new trilogy of plays opening at The Public called "Election Year In The Life Of One Family," and that the first installment, HUNGRY, would open and take place on March 4th, 2016, the natural inclination was to wonder about the significance of that date. Certainly, Nelson couldn't have known in advance that on March 4th, 2016 much of the country would be incredulously discussing how at the previous night's debate they had witnessed the leading candidate of a major political party defending the size of his penis.
HUNGRY introduces us to the Gabriel family and the fact that two of them are played by members of that exquisite Apple ensemble, Maryann Plunkett and Jay O. Sanders, is not where the similarities end. Aside from being intelligent and well-spoken, they are all left-leaners who are not entirely comfortable with those representing their leanings.
The play begins with Mary (wonderfully simple Plunkett) dutifully kneading bread dough in her kitchen. A retired doctor, Mary was the third, and last, wife of Thomas, a novelist and playwright who passed on four months earlier. She lives with Thomas' ailing mother, Patricia (Roberta Maxwell) who is unseen, in bed, for most of the play.
Guests who have arrived from Thomas' memorial service include the writer's hearty brother, George (Sanders), a piano teacher and cabinet maker, and his wife Hannah (Lynne Hawley), in the catering business. Also on hand are Thomas' sister Joyce (Amy Warren), an assistant costume designer, and his first wife, Karin (Meg Gibson) a former actor who now teaches.
Though the action is not completely continuous, it takes place within a two-hour span where we see the evening's dinner being prepared; pasta, ratatouille and an apple crisp.
The conversation is casual, regarding topics such as their dissatisfaction with the increasing gentrification of the community and of the recent renovations of the local Franklin D. Roosevelt House Museum.
A discussion of the current political hopefuls is mostly fixed on the desire to see a woman president and whether or not it should be Hillary Clinton.
There's a sense through the piece that Nelson is just offering a feel of the characters and setting them up for more interesting matters in the coming chapters. The Apples are a tough act to follow and because this is essentially the same type of play, comparisons will be inevitable. But trust seems to be a major issue this political season and judging from his past record, we can probably trust that Nelson and his crew have made this first visit with the Gabriels just the appetizer for a satisfying meal to come.