That Hopey Changey Thing

Liberal values get picked over at dinner.

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  • Photograph: Joan Marcus

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Photograph: Joan Marcus

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Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

Richard Nelson's modest That Hopey Changey Thing is stamped with the particulars of this precise moment in American politics, and it wears its implicit expiration date like a badge: "This is what might be called a 'disposable' play,'" writes the author in a candid program note. Set on Election Day 2010, the play places us in the Hudson Valley hamlet of Rhinebeck, where six middle-aged and middle-class people (four of them siblings) share a meal and—goaded by the affably contrarian Richard (Jay O. Sanders) and far from the judging crowds of Manhattan—confess to a creeping disillusionment with Obama and the leftist establishment. Dissatisfied with punditry, Nelson's goal is to provide public space for the kinds of individual voices that he hears "in my own living room, or on a train, or over dinners in a restaurant." He asks us, essentially, to gaze at other people's navels.

The arguments that Nelson has written are specific and fair-minded and acted with seamless skill by a blue-chip cast that also includes J. Smith-Cameron, Laila Robins, Shuler Hensley, Jon DeVries and Maryanne Plunkett. But notwithstanding a few strands of stray drama—there are allusions to a scandalous family backstory, and shadows of Chekhov—the core of the play consists of intelligent but unremarkable shaggy-dog jawing about things like campaign finance and Sarah Palin. Whether you have heard these particular points in a public forum or not, you have probably encountered them somewhere else: in living rooms, trains or restaurants, perhaps, which may, in the end, be where they belong.

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Public Theater. By Richard Nelson. Dir. Nelson. With ensemble cast. 1hr 25mins. No intermission.

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