Review: REGULAR SINGING Completes Nelson's Captivating Apple Quartet

A little over three years ago - election night 2010, to be exact - playwright/director Richard Nelson welcomed us into the Rhinebeck, New York dining room of high school English teacher Barbara Apple, who lives with her ailing elderly father, Benjamin, a former actor.

Review:  REGULAR SINGING Completes Nelson's Captivating Apple QuartetAlso on hand were her sisters, grade school teacher Marian and non-fiction writer Jane, their lawyer brother Richard and Jane's actor boyfriend, Tim.

In That Hopey Changey Thing, named for a sarcastic remark by Sarah Palin, this gathering of educated liberals spoke eloquently of the issues affecting the country as well as the simpler concerns of their hometown lives and the more complicated realities of their personal lives. Viewers and critics alike recognized the effort as Chekhovian in nature and although Nelson originally described it as a "disposable" play (written quickly about contemporary issues and quickly dated) the enthusiastic response to his simple, touching writing and the extraordinary acting ensemble inspired return visits with the Apple family in Sweet and Sad (taking place on the tenth anniversary of 9/11) and Sorry (set on election night 2012).

All three plays are currently being performed in repertory along with the final evening of the project, Regular Singing, set on the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination. Maryann Plunkett (Barbara), Laila Robins (Marian), Jay O. Sanders (Richard) and Jon Devries (Benjamin) continue their outstanding work and are ably joined by Sally Murphy (Jane) and Stephen Kunken (Tim), who replace the unavailable J. Smith-Cameron and Shuler Hensley.

Review:  REGULAR SINGING Completes Nelson's Captivating Apple QuartetContinuing in the quiet and conversational tone of the first three, Regular Singing should strike more emphatically with those who have seen its predecessors, as past events are referenced and the writing feels determined to take us to a satisfying conclusion.

With Marian's dying ex-husband Adam upstairs in bed and Benjamin's health continually in question, death, and the sudden changes it makes, seems to be on the family's mind this night, especially when they realize the grim significance of the day. Newcomers to the series will likely find little action to grasp onto, but those who have been with the Apples for three years should appreciate the evening's subtle shadings.

The play concludes with an epilogue more reminiscent of Thornton Wilder than Anton Chekhov.

"And so we live," Barbara reminds us. "Something brings us together," she tells us while searching in her words for the playwright's final thoughts. And what started as a disposable play has concluded as one of the great American theatre experiences of this young century.

Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Laila Robins, Sally Murphy and Maryann Plunkett; Bottom: Sally Murphy, Jay O. Sanders, Maryann Plunkett and Jon Devries.

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