By Kyle Osborne
Give yourself a gift this holiday season and head to Studio Theatre to see "The Apple Family Plays."
Playwright Richard Nelson’s two one-act plays, “That Hopey Changey Thing” and “Sweet and Sad,” have just been extended through January 5th, where they rotate in repertory. The cast, a virtual Washington Theatre All-Stars team of actors play the same characters in each play, set a year apart.
Also in both plays, the action is set around (or near) the dinner table, that most infamous of family battlegrounds. We are in the Rhinebeck, N.Y. home of Barbara Apple (Sarah Marshall), whose life as a school teacher also includes taking care of Uncle Benjamin, once a well-known thespian, now an amnesiac who can't remember a thing, and he's fading fast. The great Ted van Griethuysen, with impeccable timing, delivers each "I don't remember" and "Who is that?" as a poignant punchline. It's a set-up that works almost too well, for by the time we have seen the first play and moved on to the second, it feels as if Nelson has sent the senior character to the well a few too many times. Not that the laughs subside much from one to the next.
No matter, the family drama which unfolds, otherwise feels (as the very best plays do), as if one is peering through the window of that often lonely house, happily joining the "event" which brings in Barbara Apple's siblings and others for the day. In "That Hopey Changey Thing," the day happens to be Election Night 2010, and the mostly liberal New Yorkers spend a lot of time talking politics in a fashion that binds them--something they need--but also separates those who even contemplate swinging the other way. Rick Foucheux, a man who acts as easily as he breathes, not an ounce of self-consciousness, is the brother and lawyer whose shifting opinions put him at odd with his sisters. Is there a better actor in this area than Foucheux? This man has given definitive performances as Willy Loman and Shelly Levene from Glen Gary, Glen Ross. Here, as "Richard," he raises the already high level of this family's believability. He's a pleasure to watch.
The second play, "Sweet and Sad" takes place the following year on September 10th, 2011. The night before the tenth anniversary of 9-11. Although it's possible to enjoy and understand this play as a "stand alone," the experience is much richer if one has seen the first, which is also, by the way, the stronger of the two.
I am leaving out the vast majority of the various subplots and revealed secrets, it;s best to watch them unfold organically. You'll just have to trust me that this family is both familiar and hilariously funny.They're also damaged and dysfunctional. Where would the fun be without all that?
And some may well ask, "Why do I want to watch another family's ups and downs when I have to endure that with my own family during these holidays?" And the answer is: because seeing yourself, or someone you know, represented on this stage is cathartic and freeing. And highly entertaining.
So pull up a chair. Can they pour you a glass of wine? Red or white? Now, then...discuss!
"The Apple Family Plays": "That Hopey Changey Thing" and "Sweet and Sad" continue at Studio Theatre through January 5th. Tickets and more information are available at: www.studiotheatre.org