By Sandi Durell
Hailing from Rhinebeck, NY, the Gabriel family, part of a trilogy written and directed by Richard Nelson, now at the Public Theater, resounds with up to the minute politics (according to its subtitle: Election Year in the Life of One Family) and so neat little references fall into play regarding Hillary, the Donald and how hope quickly fades.
For one hour and 45 minutes, the audience peeks into a window of the life of a middle class working family (living in a country environment) as it unfolds while the Gabriels prepare another family dinner in their retro style kitchen and we are privy to their hopes and disappointments.
In the guise of everyday problems that families face, after the death of Thomas Gabriel, a novelist/playwright who died last November, and who was married to Mary, his third wife (Mary Ann Plunkett), living in the house where the family converges to discuss current financial woes due to a reverse mortgage on the house where George (Jay O. Sanders) and his wife Hannah (Lynn Hawley) live, because his elderly mother Patricia (Roberta Maxwell) got snookered, and now finds herself in debt she cannot pay to the pricey assisted living facility where she now resides. Visiting is George’s sister Joyce (Amy Warren), a costume designer, and Thomas’ first wife Karin (Meg Gibson, an actress and teacher, staying with the family, who engages them in readings of Thomas’ musings and works that she continues to sift through.
George is intent on selling what he can to raise monies, such as the Bechstein upright piano (which we hear played frequently in the background). And so, the matriarch of the family feels guilty and continually asks “What can I do?”
They converse on topics that range from George’s new found billionaire buddy (for whom he hopes to do construction work on his recently acquired house in Stockbridge), while Hannah has been asked to cook food for an upcoming picnic the billionaires will be having (no, they haven’t offered her any money for her work). They talk theater, books, feminism and corsets, and spend a lot of time in the food section. It does whet the appetite as the smells wind their way into the audience.
But the real meat of the play is referencing societal injustices and keeping a political agenda, expected in a theatrical environment – a liberalism that sometimes needs to answer many questions as the underlying music suggests “Don’t Just Sit There; Tell Me What I Want to Know.”
The conversations are simply stated, the realities hit home and one doesn’t need to look up words or do research to find that all human beings desire the same basics – that there is still hope.
www.publictheater.org 425 Lafayette Street, NYC, thru October 9