How did you spend Election Day? In a seething apoplexy of conservative disgust? Doing victory jigs and taunting Romney followers on Facebook? Chances are you were somewhere in the middle, which is where we find the Apple family in the third installment of Richard Nelson’s tetralogy about their private lives and evolving politics. Sorry is set on November 6, 2012, but nobody has voted yet—the piece unfolds in real time, from five to seven in the morning. As with the previous plays (That Hopey Changey Thing and Sweet and Sad), we are in upstate New York, at the Rhinebeck home of high-school teacher Barbara (Maryann Plunkett), who lives with her divorced sister Marian (Laila Robins), also a teacher, and their uncle Benjamin (Jon DeVries), still afflicted with amnesia from a heart attack. Visiting from New York City are sister Jane (J. Smith-Cameron), a nonfiction writer, and brother Richard (Jay O. Sanders), a lawyer.
Since this is low-key conversation-driven naturalism, there’s no real plot to recount. Today, Barbara and her siblings have agreed to put Benjamin—who has been acting out in disturbing, sexual ways—in a nursing home. Barbara, a congenital worrier, is wracked with guilt. The others pass the wee hours of the morning discussing their careers, love lives and ambivalence over the election. While Miriam clearly prays for an Obama win, Richard sees no essential difference between the candidates. “How did you, the voice of our better selves,” he rhetorically questions the President, “begin appealing to our hates?” Whether or not you sympathize, Nelson articulates the tangle of hope and helplessness that most citizens are feeling today about our foreign policy and the possibility of profound social change at home.
Given that Sorry takes place on a specific date (critics were invited that same day), you have to speculate on its shelf life. In truth, this isn’t political theater or a living newspaper, bound to become dated. Nelson’s gentle, understated writing and clean, direct staging—enacted by five of the best actors in New York—is about big stuff: memory, death and family. The more distant its setting grows, the more vividly it may reflect our present.—David Cote
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