Richard Nelson's second installment in his trilogy The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family makes an art of being unsurprising. At his best, Nelson's gift is gentle but insistent realism: He works in washes of murmured crosstalk, and, as with his 2010–13 cycle The Apple Family Plays, What Did You Expect? is set on its own opening night (September 16; onstage chatter echoed our pre-show conversations down to the detail). The show blends into the world around it; likewise, the plays themselves blur into one another. Those who have seen the Apples will instantly feel at home in this honey-colored kitchen full of aging Rhinebeck natives, nattering about nothing and everything.
But while it's warmly familiar and gorgeously performed by a company including Jay O. Sanders and Roberta Maxwell, What Did You Expect? sometimes misses its step. Writing at top speed (three plays in a year!), Nelson takes insufficient care over his textures: overfull with cultural trivia and self-referential winking, Expect's less strong than the first Gabriel play Hungry, itself hastier than the whole crop of Apples. Still, there's nourishment here. Something very like The Cherry Orchard's dispossession plot pulses inside it, which bodes well for the third play to come (on Election Day). If Nelson stays true to Chekhov's pattern, the Gabriels' cozy kitchen is about to explode. And much as I've come to feel at home there, I long to see it open to the storm.
Public Theater (Off Broadway). Written and directed by Richard Nelson. With Meg Gibson, Lynn Hawley, Roberta Maxwell, Maryann Plunkett, Jay O. Sanders and Amy Warren. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission. Through Oct 9. Click here for full venue and ticket information.
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