Written by the critically-acclaimed playwright and Tony award winning librettist, Richard Nelson, Sorry the third part of the Apple Family Triology, produced by Thalia’s Umbrella, opened at 12th Ave Arts, this past weekend. With a stellar cast, composed of some of my favorite Seattle actors, as well as a highly capable director and technical staff, the play was definitely not the thing.
A fictional family of adult siblings, the Apples, live in Rhinbeck, N.Y. near Bard College, The plays have been described as taking place on “elections or significant historical anniversaries”. The first, That Hopey Changey Thing focused on the 2010 midterm elections, the second Sweet and Sad (2011) took place on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
Sorry takes place in the wee hours of the 2012 presidential election when Mitt Romney lost to incumbent Barak Obama. Sorry, at least, did not focus on a great historical event, such as Barack Obama’s election but rather the afterthought of an historical event and therein lies one of the problems of the play: A lack of conflict and a recognizable dramatic arc.
As the play opens in a ¾ in the round stage, with an excellent backdrop of a forest, by set designer Roberta Russel, suggesting the isolation of a rural retreat, three late middle-aged women dressed in pajamas ( who turn out to be sisters) are sitting around a dinning room table strewn with last night’s wine glasses. Later we learn that they have stayed up all night, the night BEFORE the election, rather than the night of the election, when people, on the East Coast, usually stay up to watch the results.
A rambling conversation takes place; it was a full half an hour before any clear conflict was introduced. An elderly uncle shuffles in and it transpires that today is the day when he is to be taken to assisted living, so guilt, shame, impatience etc. fill the atmosphere as the fourth sibling, Richard, strolls in to surprise the sisters.
Although one would expect that the conflict of the Uncle’s plight might become central to the plot, it does not. The conversation keeps rambling onto the sort of topics siblings talk about: their childhoods, their work, their spouses or lack thereof, and of course politics. Some serious topics are given fleeting attention, the suicide of one of the sister’s daughters, the infidelity of the brother’s wife, as they fight, make-up and demonstrate how very liberal and appropriately ängstlich they are all about the state of the world. All the badges of mainstream liberalism are on display making the dialogue seem very contrived.
All the actors were excellent and did as well as they could with the stilted dialogue. Leslie Law as Jane, a pretty, plump writer delightfully played the compassionante, cheerful sister. As the embittered, haggard elder sister, Barbara, Jeanne Paulsen added as much conflict to the script as was humanly possible and we saw some of the real issues in the play. Macall Gordon as Jane, the third-grade teacher, recently in love with a painter, put in a great performance.
William Hall Jr., an excellent actor, physically and emotionally played the senile elderly uncle superbly, but got the accent wrong. Here was a case where color-blind casting worked because it really did not matter if an African American played the uncle, except that he spoke differently from the rest of the family.
The choices of music and of course the backdrop all helped to salvage this deeply flawed script and director Daniel Wilson, directed the actors well. Nowadays, there are a lot of plays trying to be topical. For example. there are plays about gay men, and if we support gay rights, we dare not criticize those plays because the political message is more important. But not every gay-themed play is the Lisbon Traviata.
Writing about politics rather than the real personal tragedies of individuals is extremely tricky. Sorry, in my opinion, only scratched the surface of the tragedies, lacked a coherent plot and the dialogue was truly uninspiration. Such a great cast deserved better material.
Sorry, Thalia’s Umbrella. 12th Ave Arts. 1620 12th Ave (12th Ave at Pine-Capitol Hill ) Seattle. Thurs-Sat 7:30. Sun 2:00 pm. Thur. Sun. June 26.Tickets www.sorry.brownpapertickets.com Info.