Amid the various public remembrances of 9/11, Richard Nelson's Sweet and Sad offers a personal meditation on loss. Now at the Public Theater, the play, the follow-up to last year's That Hopey Changey Thing, pays a second visit to the Apple family, this time on 9/11/11.
The familial squabbles, petty bickering and occasional swipes at politics and history underscore the production's larger issues: How do we cope with personal tragedy? Are those who died on 9/11 victims or heroes? Why are 9/11 families compensated, but not those killed in Oklahoma City? Disquieting and thoughtful, Sweet and Sad is a philosophical interlude; ultimately, it's the second act in the Apple saga.
Sisters Marian (Laila Robins) and Barbara (Maryann Plunkett) have fled Manhattan and now share a house in Rhinebeck, N.Y. Both teachers, one is reeling from a profound loss. They share another problem, an uncle who has lost his memory (Jon DeVries.) As the women, their brother (Jay O Sanders), sister Jane (J. Smith-Cameron) and her boyfriend Tim (Shuler Hensley), gather for brunch, they attempt to comprehend the incomprehensible -- be it the 9/11 attack, death or why the state of Pennsylvania tried to sell its turnpike to Abu Dhabi.
(That event, as Sweet and Sad notes, is chronicled in Matt Taibbi's recent book Griftopia, which also reports that all the parking meters in Chicago were sold to a consortium from the United Arab Emirates. So was a port in Virginia and loads of Californian public infrastructure projects, and that's just for openers.) Nelson has given his characters ample reasons for post-9/11 rage -- both micro and macro.
The performances are touching, a reminder that without answers, anger and grief can commingle for a lifetime. However, Sweet and Sad would have far greater resonance if it ran with Hopey Changey. This isn't an ending, but an ongoing exploration.