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A CurtainUp Review

I had dinner with the Apple family in Rhinebeck in 2010's The Hopey Changey Thing and again in 2011's Sweet and Sad. The time spent with them in Rhinebeck (a little town I like so well that I almost bought a home there once) made me almost feel like a member of the family. This year Hurricane Sandy threw a wrench into my plans to be with them for the crisis concerning Uncle Benjamin. Schedules had to be ditched and re-scheduled but as luck would have it a member of the Curtainup family, Jon Magaril, was here from Los Angeles and he was able to join the Apples, a few days after the November 6th opening. Like me, he became enamored with the Apples and his report on the experience herewith. Elyse Sommer
"Ordinary things. How they have meaning. A dinner, a bath. How one looks at oneself when alone. There's a world we don't know. And of course rarely if ever see."—Barbara

Jay O. Sanders, Laila Robins, J. Smith-Cameron, and Maryann Plunkett
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
A harrowing ache throbs through every moment of Richard Nelson's Sorry. So does a comforting intimacy. The combination makes its spell hard to shake, even though this is one of the writer-director's self-described "disposable" plays.

Like the previous two in this projected quartet about the Apple family, Sorry opened the day it takes place. On November 6, after listening to sisters Jane, Marian, and Barbara ruminate with their brother Richard about the hate-filled presidential campaigns, the audience filed out to watch the good news for Obama on screens in the Public Theater's lobby.

The first in the cycle, That Hopey, Changey Thing occurred the night of 2010's mid-term election . The Apples' beloved uncle Benjamin (Jon de Vries) had just suffered an amnesia-inducing heart attack. Next was Sweet and Sad, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Marian (Laila Robbins) had just lost her teen-aged daughter to suicide.

In each, Nelson rewrote during previews to reflect the evolving situation and then, after the opening night , froze the script. The last changes to Sorry greatly inform its overall mood. Barbara (J. Smith-Cameron) warns, "They say there's another storm coming."

This is high-concept theater composed of low-concept conversations and production values. Two tables and rugs make up Susan Hilferty's satisfying set design. Nelson's writing abjures plot twists and grand revelation for the low-key ebb and flow of life as we tend to experience it, even in the midst of change.

Attention is paid to both the personal and social, without pushing one to serve as a metaphor for the other. Here, Barbara has decided to place Benjamin, who has long shared the Rhinebeck homestead with her, in a long-term care facility. She can no longer handle his worsening dementia and a correlative lack of sexual inhibition. As she prepares an unwitting Benjamin for the move, she seesaws back and forth on whether she can go through with it.

This is naturalistic ensemble acting that I imagine could stand with the legendary heights of the Stanislavsky era Moscow Art Theatre. If I forget Maryann Plunkett's searing performance as Barbara, I will be a lesser man for it. ¨She and DeVries never grandstand, though the situation offers plentiful opportunities for it. They simply play the push-and-pull moments of a man, whose awareness sharpens and dulls, and his niece, who adores and fears him. Jay O. Sanders' Richard makes the more overtly political discussions sit evocatively within the web of sadness enshrouding the day's events by refusing to stand on a soapbox.

Sorry unapologetically embraces the present moment in its set-the-table, clear-the-table daily trivialities and a lump-in-the-throat, clear-the-throat no-nonsense emotionality.

Written and directed by Richard Nelson
Cast: Jon DeVries (Benjamin Apple), Maryann Plunkett (Barbara Apple), Laila Robins (Marian Apple Platt), Jay O. Sanders (Richard Apple) and J. Smith-Cameron (Jane Apple Halls)

Scenic and costume design by Susan Hilferty
Lighting design by Jennifer Tipton
Sound design by Scott Lehrer and Will Pickens
Stage Manager: Pamela Salling
Running Time: Approx 1 hour and 45 minutes without an intermission
Public Theater 420 Lafayette Street
From 10/30/12; opening 11/06/12; closing 11/25/12
Reviewed by Jon Magaril
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©Copyright 2012, Elyse Sommer.
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