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Incidental Moments Of The Day- a deeply touching world premiere concludes Richard Nelson's Zoom trilogy
By Elyse Sommer
But here we are, six months into the nightmare that's been part of our waking as well as sleeping hours. While Nelson and playwrights everywhere are as eager to be able to see their plays presented on stage with an audience in front of them instead of their computers.
And yet, even this horrid pandemic has its upside. In Richard Nelson's case that upside is that he's managed to use Zoom technology to capture the intimacy of his popular, more conventionally staged family plays. The response to What Do We Need to Talk About (some 80,000 people in 30 countries logged in), led to And So We Go Forth.
Incidental Moments of the Day continues to explore the Apples' experience during the pandemic . It's even more moving and expertly Zoomed than its predecessors .
While some Zoomed plays and concerts I've seen fail to overcome the limitations of this format, Nelson has managed to draw us in. Of course, he's fortunate to have his screens inhabited by the same actors who've endeared themselves to a loyal fan base with their portrayal of these characters. The established rapport between playwright and performers has made it easier for Mr. Nelson to direct them remotely. The result is that the cast makes us feel we're right there with them. And if you didn't see the first two plays, Nelson's dialogue and the way the actors deliver their lines and interact with each other will fill you in enough to not feel lost.
Incidental Moments of the Day is filled with sadness. But it's also deftly plotted and entertaining The pandemic has taken its toll on the sisters, especially free lance writer Jane (Sally Murphy) the youngest. She and boyfriend Tim (Stephen Kunken), a part-time actor and manager of a Rhinebeck restaurant, are living apart and she's in a deep depression.
Dedicated high school English teacher Barbara (Maryann Plunkett) too seems depressed. (Well, aren't we all a little?). She's happy that brother Richard (Jay O. Sanders) has found a new love, but she'll miss having him around as he was with her while she recovered from a mild case of the virus (In the first play) and he was shopping for a house to buy in Rhinebeck since he retired from his job as a lawyer in Governor Cuomo's Albany office.
Richard's new love brings an upbeat note despite the continuing pandemic. But somehow even Jane is dealing better with her depression. She's signed up for an online course in crisis counseling. she's also come up with a plan for Tim to come back from living in his childhood home in Amherst by having his daughter live with the middle sister Marian (Laila Robins), also a teacher, who has plenty of room and would welcome having a teenager with her.
Tim clearly wants to be with Jane again, In the meantime, being in his childhood home has him reflecting on passages in books and plays that impressed him at nineteen. In addition to these "now" reflections on quotes from James Baldwin and Athol Fugard, there's a journal kept by his mother, which includes a comment on a painter she admired the subtitle of which is the title of the play we're all watching.''
As for Marian, who so touchingly expressed how strange and painful it was to not have been touched by another human being for three months in And So We Go Forth , she too is doing something to make the distanced life more bearable. Besides being eager to welcome Tim's daughter into her home, she's gone on a dinner date which is why she doesn't show up this time until the last ten or fifteen minutes.
But even before she arrives there's another member of this virtual dinner gathering and here's where Nelson manages the coup of introducing an exciting and entertaining visual element into what's essentially the tragedy of a white, middle class family sensing themselves being linked to those with alien to them elitist views.
The special guest in the virtually shared dinner is Lucy Michaels (Charlotte Bydwell) aa character in Nelson's last stat play /at the Public Theater, The Michaels Lucy is a Rhinebeck Girl and was a student of Barbara's. She's currently in a residency in Angers, France (making this the first Zoom I've seen with its characters interacting from four different virtual sets, all minimally but effectively detailed). The dance, a rendering of Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag", has been arranged as a special treat by Barbara.
Lucy's vibrant dance is an enjoyable break from the conversation which covers all the highly controversial and divisive issues that have become part of the current zeitgeist in a very personal way. Tim, Richard and Barbara discuss incidents that have them uneasilly aware that in adidition to the uncertainty about the virus white middle class people like them may more and more find themselves viewed as racists — despite a lifetime of being firmly committed to liberal, open-mindededness.
With the Pulitzer committee's decision to include on line work as part of its selection process, this trilogy and another Zoom oiginal, The Line, may just answer the question of whether a play written for Zoom can really be considered theater and not a historic disaster stopgap.
The September 10th performance of Incidental Moments of the Day was streamed live but can be watched free through November 5th at You Tube or www.theapplefamilyplays.com (see production notes for details about requested donations).
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a PRODUCTION NOTES
Incidental Moments Of The Day
Written and Directed by Richard Nelson
Cast: Charlotte Bydwell (Lucy), Stephen Kunken (Tim), Sally Murphy (Jane), Maryann Plunkett (Barbara), Laila Robins (Marian), and Jay O. Sanders (Richard)
The Stage: The actors' locations in Albany, Rhinebeck, Amherst and Angers, France -- as seen in a Zoom box
Running Time: approximately 70 minutes.
Available to stream on You Tube or at www.theapplefamilyplays.com from 9/10/20
world premere to 11/05/20. Free with donations requested to an benefit Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation in the US and the Theatre Artists Fund in the UK.