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BWW Review: REGULAR SINGING: The Apple Family's Last Supper

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Regular Singing

Written by Richard Nelson; In Association with Stoneham Theatre, Directed by Weylin Symes; Scenic Designer, Crystal Tiala; Costume Designer, Gail Buckley; Lighting Designer, Jeff Adelberg; Sound Designer, David Wilson; Stage Manager, Anna Burnham

CAST (in alphabetical order): Joel Colodner, Laura Latreille, Karen MacDonald, Paul Melendy, Bill Mootos, Sarah Newhouse

Performances through September 25 at New Repertory Theatre, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA; Box Office 617-923-8487 or www.newrep.org

The Apple family gathers for their last supper in the conclusion of Richard Nelson's four-play cycle, Regular Singing, now in its Boston area premiere at New Repertory Theatre in Watertown. Before bidding adieu to the characters they've played in three previous outings, the six cast members set the dining table with the salads, casseroles, desserts, and beverages that fuel their energetic conversations about politics, personalities, and the quotidian details of life in Rhinebeck, New York. Under the direction of Weylin Symes, the producing artistic director of Stoneham Theatre, the ensemble has jelled into a perfect family unit that we have had the pleasure of watching evolve over the course of the past two seasons.

The strength of the four productions (That Hopey Changey Thing, Stoneham Theatre, 2015; Sweet and Sad, Gloucester Stage, 2015; Sorry, Stoneham Theatre, 2016) has always been grounded in the stellar roster of Boston actors reprising their roles: Joel Colodner (aging Uncle Benjamin Apple, a former actor with amnesia secondary to a heart attack), Laura Latreille (Jane Apple, a writer unable to gain traction with myriad projects), Karen MacDonald (high school teacher Barbara Apple, the mother hen of the family), Paul Melendy (Jane's significant other, Tim Andrews, an actor working as a waiter), Bill Mootos (Richard Apple, high-level lawyer, possible conservative, and only brother), and Sarah Newhouse (Marian Apple, the sensitive sister who has endured a devastating loss). To anyone familiar with these artists, it comes as no surprise that they authenticate a family once they step upon the stage, turning each of Nelson's plays into a master class on working as an ensemble.

As engaging as it is to observe the group inhabiting their characters, each of whom feels familiar and fully realized at this juncture, Regular Singing fails to move the needle very much. In this installment, the family has gathered to celebrate the life of and bear witness to the imminent death of Marian's ex-husband Adam (unseen). As it coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, there is the tragic parallel of a life ended too soon and the acknowledgement of the importance of coming together, as a community or as a family. Much of the conversation is convivial, despite the aura of gloom permeating the household, and Nelson seems to be saying that life goes on even during the dark hours, as long as we have our loved ones close by. There are occasional disagreements or conflicts between various members of the family, but there is no doubt that they share a strong bond and care deeply about one another.

The design elements are strong, including Crystal Tiala's dining room set, Jeff Adelberg's lighting, Gail Astrid Buckley's costumes, and David Wilson's sound design. It should be noted that New Rep has installed a permanent hearing loop system, innovative wireless technology that affords hearing impaired audience members the ability to hear speech and music from the stage clearly. (On a personal note, I found it to be a major improvement over the previous assisted listening device.) In the company of its three predecessors, Regular Singing is a feel good, G-rated, slice-of-life drama, but a smaller slice might be satisfactory. As it stands, two hours with no intermission tests both the bladder and the attention span.

Photo credit: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures (Paul Melendy, Laura Latreille, Joel Colodner, Karen MacDonald, Sarah Newhouse, Bill Mootos)


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