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To see Sorry on Election Day, the very day on which writer-director Richard Nelson has set his Apple family drama, is to sit among an audience desperately attempting not to check their smart phones.
The Public Theater has already hosted Nelson’s previous Apple plays, the well-received That Hopey Changey Thing and Sweet and Sad. Yet on Sorry’s opening night, spectators delayed their march to the Anspacher space in order to spend just one more minute watching the CNN feed projected on the lobby wall. During the show itself, you could feel the crowd tense as Jay O. Sanders’s Richard mentioned the legitimate possibility of a President Romney.
The play not only takes place on November 6, 2012 (though the morning of), but also discusses the presidential race. So to distract this audience, Nelson and his cast and crew had to put on a powerful show. Which they did. As the lights came down at the end, playgoers had to wipe the tears from their eyes before they could scrabble for their devices. This was all the more unlikely because Sorry is a piece, like its predecessors, in which almost nothing happens.
And that’s enough. The cast, which reassembles for this third play (absent Shuler Hensley, otherwise aswim uptown in The Whale), is wholly convincing as a family unit. Their rapport feels as lived in as the pajamas and robes that comprise their costumes. You may find yourself noting similarities of feature and temperament before you catch yourself and remember that these actors are not actually related.
The slender plot—slimmer than a Florida margin—concerns the decision of sisters Marian (Laila Robins) and Barbara (Maryann Plunkett) to move their beloved Uncle Benjamin (Jon DeVries) to an assisted living facility. But all of this has been decided in the days and weeks before the play begins. There isn’t even a dog to look after, as in Hopey Changey. So as the script unfolds, they are left to do what families always do, election or no: eat, drink, argue, condole, tell stories.
Nelson’s allegiance to Chekhov has never felt closer than here—to The Three Sisters, particularly, with Manhattan standing in for Moscow. Indeed, third sister Jane (J. Smith-Cameron) may have Chekhov in mind when she describes her next book project. She says she wants to write about “Ordinary things. How they have meaning. A dinner, a bath. How one looks at oneself when alone. There’s a world we don’t know. And of course rarely if ever see.” But thanks to writers like Chekov and Nelson we do.
Whatever the reception of Sorry, the Public has already committed to the final play in the Apple family tetralogy. A guaranteed fourth term? Now that’s a winning ticket.