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Women of a Certain Age
Photograph: Joan Marcus

Theater review: Women of a Certain Age is frozen in time at the Public Theater

Written by
Helen Shaw

How does the cast of Richard Nelson’s latest piece stand performing it? God knows, it’s painful just to watch. Women of a Certain Age ends his trilogy, “The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family.” Women is set—and the script was finished—on November 8, the night it opened. Certain notes of hubris in the project, like much self-referential preening about art, were already jarring on election night. Imagine them now.

Some people find reassurance in the cast’s palpable warmth; some find Nelson’s Chekhovian languor a balm. But I’m troubled at how “The Gabriels” assumes a sameness; it’s nearly two hours of self-perpetuating agreement. The characters are struggling. Patricia (Roberta Maxwell) fears her assisted-living facility; daughter-in-law Mary (Maryann Plunkett) can’t stand widowhood. But despite these backstory variations, all speak with one unchanging perspective. Nelson is painting an accidental portrait of disaffected self-regard: One daughter-in-law won’t cast any votes for Congress out of sulky anti-carpetbagger sentiment (she’s greeted with affirming nods), and the family decries Hillary Clinton’s humanity while assuming she’ll win. It’s relentlessly plaintive and, we now know, utterly beside the point. “What about us?” Mary cries near the end. Ah yes, “us.” When we finish working through the assumptions in that one, we may have an idea about what’s gone so wrong.

Public Theater (Off Broadway). Written and directed by Richard Nelson. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 45mins. No intermission. Click here for full ticket and venue information. Through Dec 4.  

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