September 11, 2001, looms large over the family dinner depicted in Richard Nelson’s hugely affecting drama, which is set (and had its New York premiere) on September 11, 2011. The anniversary is to some degree the reason the four adult Apple siblings have come together in the upstate New York home of eldest sister Barbara (Kate Harris), a schoolteacher who’s helped her students put together a memorial service at which the siblings’ uncle Benjamin (Robert Breuler), once an actor of some note who now struggles with severe memory loss, will do a reading.
Barbara’s sister Marian (Kristin Ford), recently separated from her husband for reasons everyone’s reluctant to discuss, has moved into the house, while brother Richard (Darrell W. Cox) and sister Jane (Harmony France) have come up from the city, Jane with her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Tim (Eric Burgher), also an actor, in tow.
That Benjamin and Tim are both performers is not for nothing. As the dinner-table conversation meanders around and, eventually, lands on the subject of 9/11, it becomes clear that among the playwright’s questions about the attack’s legacy (or specter) is the role, if any, of art in coming to terms with tragedies of any scale. Nelson’s dialogue comprises masterfully rendered iterations of familial familiarity, needling minutiae about health insurance or politics interwoven with intimate invocations of history. Director Joe Jahraus’s ensemble, warm and convincing, delivers the minor-key musings on the state of our nation with equal measures of the titular elements.