By Sandi Durell
Not having been privy to the 3 preceding Richard Nelson Apple Family plays (which he wrote and directed), currently at the Anspacher Theatre at the Public, I can only report on the experience of looking in on this Rhinebeck, NY family of relatives who are ordinary in many ways – they care, love, experience the loss of those they love and are shaped by the experiences of their lives. They feel all the anxieties that plague ordinary people.
The family has gathered on a deathwatch of Marian’s (Laila Robins) ex-husband Adam (from whom she is divorced after 30 years) who is upstairs dying of lung cancer. They talk about everything from JFK’s assassination to brother Richard’s (Jay O. Sanders) new job as a lawyer in Albany in Andrew Cuomo’s office. Marian lives in her sister Barbara’s (Maryann Plunkett) home and with them are younger sister Jane (Sally Murphy), her boyfriend Tim (Stephen Kunken) and their uncle Benjamin (Jon DeVries) a former actor who has suffered a stroke but is still very much with it.
The actors enter bringing with them all the necessaries to set the dining room table in the sparse setting (Susan Hilferty) around which they gather – table cloths, dishes, platters of food – waiting for the ultimate. The conversations alter from political commentaries on Obamacare and Senator Boehner to social problems; Jane discusses history and paintings as Marian comes and goes checking on Adam. Barbara, a teacher, reads her student’s notes on death – humorous moments; she is the family matriarch as the 3 sisters try to inveigle Richard to move back to Rhinebeck. Richard says his ex-wife told him that his sisters won’t be happy until they can run his life! Tim offers up research information about the worth of a life – it all boils down to $1.00. Benjamin reads aloud from Chekhov.
They sing hymns and plan out Adam’s funeral wishes – who will speak when, what to sing, where his ashes will lie.
Ordinary lives, ordinary people – the dialog so earthy that we feel as though we could pop down on the stage and enter their conversations at a moment’s notice and the play would go on with no interruption. “And so we live.”
An exceptional cast of actors prevail as The Apple Family in a no intermission, almost 2 hour performance thru December 15th. (212) 967-7555 PublicTheater 425 Lafayette Street in Manhattan.
*Photos: Joan Marcus