The Apple Family Plays

Theater, Drama
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

The Apple Family Plays: Regular Singing. Public Theater (see Off Broadway). Written and directed by Richard Nelson. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs. No intermission.

Regular Singing: in brief

Richard Nelson brings his skillful and touching tetralogy—centered around a liberal family in upstate New York—to its bittersweet close. The cast (including Maryann Plunkett, Jay O. Sanders and Laila Robins) performs all four works in rep: That Hopey Changey Thing, Sweet and Sad, Sorry and the final, death-haunted chapter, Regular Singing.

Regular Singing: theater review by David Cote

We’ve gone through so much with the Apples, they’re almost family: political upheavals, suicide, illness. All that’s left in this strange, eventful history, as someone once wrote, is mere oblivion. Regular Singing is the final play in Richard Nelson’s tetralogy (the others are That Hopey Changey Thing, Sweet and Sad and Sorry), and mortality hovers over it. The playwright-director doesn’t try to wrap up anyone’s narrative with a neat little bow, but you can’t get more terminal than a deathwatch, which is how the Apples are passing the night. Fittingly, the play takes place (and opened) on November 22, 2013: the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination.

Let’s refresh your memory: Located in upstate New York, the Apples include lawyer Richard (Jay O. Sanders) and his three sisters: schoolteachers Marian (Laila Robins) and Barbara (Maryann Plunkett), and Jane (Sally Murphy), a nonfiction author. All reside in Rhinebeck with their uncle, Benjamin (Jon DeVries), still memory-impaired after a stroke, and Tim (Stephen Kunken), Jane’s actor boyfriend. Now that introductions are out of the way, what happens in Regular Singing? That’s the point: This intensely naturalistic drama consists of hushed, emotionally resonant conversations about matters personal and political, amid laughter, tears, food and drink.

In previous plays, the talk was laced with whatever dominated the headlines: the 2010 midterm push-back against Obama; the tenth anniversary of 9/11; the 2012 election. Although Nelson is one of the few American playwrights trying to fuse the domestic and the social, these plays never feel like soapboxes for liberal rage. They are instead civilized ways for an audience (leaning in, listening close) to form a temporary clan with some lovingly rendered fictional creations. It’s good to be home.—Theater review by David Cote

EXTRA: Meet the members of Richard Nelson's Apple family

Jane (Sally Murphy)

A couple years ago, Jane was living in New York working on a history of “manners in America.” She’s moved to less-stressy Rhinebeck with actor-boyfriend Tim, who’s having trouble finding gigs.

Marian (Laila Robins)

Two years ago, Marian’s teenage daughter, Evan, committed suicide. The tragedy put a wedge between Marian and her husband, Adam. In Regular Singing, the cancer-stricken Adam is upstairs, dying.

Barbara (Maryann Plunkett)

The family worrywart, Barbara was most opposed to putting amnesiac Uncle Benjamin in an assisted-living facility, but relented. She is devoted to her students.

Richard (Jay O. Sanders)

Another NYC transplant, Richard works for Governor Cuomo in Albany. The most politically involved Apple, he is (not coincidentally) also the most cynical. He’s also recently, unhappily divorced.

THE BOTTOM LINE Nelson gives the Apple family a teary farewell.

Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote

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