NEW YORK -- They're as American as apple pie, as their surname indicates. The generally liberal, middle-aged Apple clan of Rhinebeck, outside New York City, has gathered once again, in the third play of a planned quartet by Richard Nelson about an average family discussing both personal and current events on an important national day.
The latest play, titled "Sorry," which takes place from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. on Election Day 2012, opened last night at The Public Theater in another touching, tautly directed and excellently-acted production.
The play deals tenderly and often comically with issues around politics, aging, guilt, regret and grief, as the 40-something siblings discuss a painful choice regarding the advancing mental decline of their beloved uncle.
Nelson empathetically directs, as he did in the previous two plays in the series, "That Hopey Changey Thing" set on the evening of Election Day 2010, and "Sweet and Sad," set on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The four Apple siblings have assembled for breakfast, updating one another on their lives and their disappointment with national politics, while primarily discussing what to do about their Uncle Benjamin, (Jon Devries, affectingly ravaged and exhausted), now lost in a fog of unpredictable dementia. His primary caregiver, Barbara, (a beautifully distressed, conflicted portrayal by Maryann Plunkett), is the most personally involved in the decision to move him to an assisted living facility.
Her three siblings, led by brother Richard (Jay O. Sanders, seemingly open, yet always holding something back) are supportive of the move, and their interactions – loving, yet sometimes jealous or frustrated – are typical of any close-knit family. Laila Robins wears an exasperated, wounded air as Marian, and J. Smith-Cameron is coolly understanding as Jane. Each sibling displays nuanced, individual passions as they discuss the difficult options about both Uncle Benjamin and the national election.
Nelson includes casual references to current real-life situations, like Occupy Wall Street and the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, carefully woven into the dialogue in natural-sounding ways. Seemingly random events and stories, like Richard's discovery about the jinxed presidency of Franklin Pierce, subtly refract pointed political analogies.
Susan Hilferty's cozy set is gradually layered with a comforting clutter of breakfast food, dishes, and a quirky mix of Chinese food, ice cream and even wine. Ambiguous conversations abruptly end with a flash of darkness, quickly re-illuminated by Jennifer Tipton's homey lighting.
By the time Barbara cautions, "They're saying another storm's coming tomorrow," it's clear she's referring not just to the weather, but also to the impending upheaval for her family and for the fractured country at large.