Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Unexplored Interior
Nelson wrote each play to be performed in the same setting on a specific day in recent U.S. history, and each play premiered at New York's Public Theatre on the day when it takes place. Sorry is set in the early morning of Election Day 2012, as Barack Obama faces Mitt Romney for the presidency, and Regular Singing takes place on Nov. 22, 2013, the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination. (The earlier plays took place on Election Day 2010 and the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks.)
The members of the Apple family of Rhinebeck, New York, filter the external stresses of life through the minutiae of their own experiences. In Sorry, rather than thinking about the election, the Apple siblingsteachers Barbara (Sarah Marshall) and Marian (Elizabeth Pierotti), nonfiction writer Jane (Kimberly Schraf), and lawyer Richard (Rich Foucheux)are preparing to move their cognitively impaired uncle Benjamin (Ted van Griethuysen) from the family home where Barbara still lives, into a care facility. Regular Singing juxtaposes the family's memories of the Kennedy assassination with the impending (offstage) death of a relative.
The remarkable thing about Nelson's writing is the way subtext filters up through and between each line. The family members may be talking about obscure figures in U.S. history or the politics inherent in choral singing, but what is most apparent is the way the siblings treat each other, their shared and distinct personal histories, and the grievances they have tried to deny. Adding another level is the presence of Benjamin, who can no longer remember his acting career but whose voice is as rich and emotional as ever. (The fact that he reads a speech from The Cherry Orchard emphasizes the similarity in literary tone between Nelson and Chekhovand Chekhov also wrote a play about three adult sisters and their brother.)
Seiden clearly knows and loves the characters he directs, led by van Griethuysen's masterful portrayal of a man doing his best to hold onto his self-awareness and Marshall's blend of pride and buried resentment. Each actor adds a different flavor: Pierotti, unrelenting sorrow (for reasons that gradually become clear); Schraf, a determination to make sense of things; Foucheux, the big fish visiting the small pond; and Jeremy Webb, guileless as Marian's younger boyfriend.