Written and directed by Richard Nelson
Featuring Jon DeVries, Maryann Plunkett, Laila Robins, Jay O. Sanders, J. Smith-Cameron
Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street
November 6, 2012 (opening) — December 2, 2012
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
November 8, 2012

Maryann Plunkett, Laila Robins, Jay O. Sanders, J. Smith Cameron, Jon DeVries. Image by Sara Krulwich.

Richard Nelson creates for us in his plays That Hopey Changey Thing (2010) and Sweet and Sad (2011) and now Sorry a gently unfolding family serial that could be inspired by the domestic dramas crafted on-screen by Ingmar Bergman. These dramatic adventures are comprised more of layers than explosions, more of nuance than knowing nudge, and contain not one ounce of snark anywhere.  In a partnership with the Public Theater, Nelson has generated these annual installments of the unfolding lives of a group of adult siblings, spouses (referenced or appearing, varying among the installments), and an aged uncle, in one sibling’s home in Rhinebeck, a short train ride from New York City. Perhaps the only bit of gimmickry in these creations is that each installment opens on the actual date of the action of the play (this most recent opened on November 6, 2012). I can forgive this bit of realistic anchoring. The universal stories are more present and evocative for this, and the stories mesmerizing.

The Apple family without spouses entertains us for this installment. Uncle Benjamin (Jon DeVries), sister Barbara (Maryann Plunkett) whose home provides our setting, additional sisters Marian (Laila Robins) and Jane (J. Smith-Cameron), and a single brother Richard (Jay O. Sanders) comprise our family of familiars. Uncle Benjamin’s continuing dementia (or post heart attack coma complications) focus the sibling attention on a universal life stage: should our elder be placed in a nursing home or can we care for him ourselves? In additional, the siblings process reported and uncovered actions of uncle Benjamin toward other characters including his host and caretaker Barbara.  This is not a play of action but of interaction, of subtext, of moments, of interaction.

I choose to assume, in the best serial storytelling fashion, that these character still live, continue to grow and evolve, and will honor us with more chapters as the years proceed. I have shared space with this cast in this space for only the last two of the three installments. Perhaps I’ll visit the Theatre archives at Lincoln Center to live the first chapter to fill in the story. Let it be said, however, that each of these chapters, these layers, stands alone. In quiet revelation, in gently choreographed ensemble acting and movement, deaths and new beginnings and life stages are discussed and unpacked and felt and shared. A visit with the eternal in the original Anspacher Theatre space. No particular lighting design (other than lights up on the audience during scene changes, though Jennifer Tipton is credited), no particular set design other than what feel like carefully assembled pieces in a well stocked rehearsal space (though Susan Hilferty is credited with set and costumes). Chairs, tables, bits and pieces of house detritus. All design and direction guide us to the words and the acting. And what Nelson has crafted for us, what these actors create for us, is sublime.

© Martha Wade Steketee (November 28, 2012)

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