Searching for a modern American political play, Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director of New York’s Public Theater, asked Richard Nelson to write him a grandiose drama. Instead, Nelson created a series of shows exploring individuals’ ideas about life and American politics. Studio Theatre hosted the first two installments of these shows, The Apple Family Plays, in 2013. Now Studio and the Apple Family cast are back in the two final sections: Sorry and Regular Singing. The shows play like two distinct episodes in a somewhat dark sitcom, and as of November 23rd the shows will be performed consecutively so that audience can watch the story unfold.
…these two shows in The Apple Family Plays were unassumingly honest and real, and that’s what made them a pleasure to watch.
In Sorry the Apple family struggles with Uncle Benjamin’s (Ted van Griethuysen) dementia and his move to an assisted living home. Within the framework of this difficult adjustment and Election Day 2012, the Apple family discusses their failures, successes, and pain. Because their discomfort and unease is so palpable it is as though the play reaches for our private thoughts and mirrors them onstage.
Regular Singing continues this exploration of our fears, this time in the context of death. A family member is on his deathbed, and the Apple family must come to terms with this loss on the 50th Anniversary of JFK’s assassination. Their reflections turn towards larger musings about each other and the nation.
The intimacy in watching a family converse around their dining room table carries the two plays. Nelson’s realistic dialogue in combination with Serge Seiden’s authentic directing and the actors’ dedication to their characters creates a private space where characters and audience members alike can reflect.
The cast, which worked together for the first two parts of the Apple family saga, came together naturally and subtly created deep relationships onstage. As usual Sarah Marshall (Barbara) played her role brilliantly, controlling her character’s reactions and interactions down to the last trembling lip and fluttering eyelash. However, Rick Foucheux (Richard) also stood out as a particularly strong cast member. Playing the slightly estranged brother, Foucheux embodied the conflict at the heart of the play, namely the struggle between familial obligations and personal decisions and how both affect others.
The simple, yet intentional set (Debra Booth) and lighting design (Daniel MacLean Wagner) also underscored the understated, familial nature of the play. Although a wooden door marked the edge of the stage, some of the backstage was visible to the audience. Therefore, Booth creatively created a series of rooms to complete the illusion of being in the Apple family home. Wagner faded the lights to blue while the actors shifted positions to seamlessly emphasize the passing of time. Booth, Wagner, and the rest of the design team maintained a genuineness in the play that allowed the audience to become more thoroughly invested in the characters.
As in daily life, in Sorry and Regular Singing the mundane is mixed with the highly emotional. The intimacy almost crosses the line into tediousness, but the actors always manage to pull it back from the brink. Despite their somewhat depressing overtones, these two shows in The Apple Family Plays were unassumingly honest and real, and that’s what made them a pleasure to watch.
Advisory: Adult themes and language.
Running Time: Sorry runs for 1 hour and 45 minutes and Regular Singing runs for 1 hour and 55 minutes. Neither has an intermission.
Sorry and Regular Singing plays through December 13, 2015 at Studio Theatre’s Milton Theatre, 1501 14th St NW, Washington, DC. For more information and to order tickets please call (202) 332-3300 or click here.