In Richard Nelson’s Regular Singing, now running at the Public Theater, the Apple family gathers to rehearse a funeral for Adam, the unseen ex-husband of Marian (Laila Robins) who lies dying upstairs. Set on the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, the drama also serves as a valediction for an earlier, perhaps happier time in America’s history. And it bids farewell to the clan we have come to know with almost unbearable intimacy throughout four plays.
Each year, we’ve been invited into the living room of the Rhinebeck home where two of the Apple sisters reside, sometimes with their uncle. A third sister, her boyfriend, and a brother also visit. Lucidly written and exquisitely acted, these plays approach the question of how we live now with an immediate, nearly pointillist specificity.
Here, the move from monologue to dialogue and back seems somewhat jerkier, the allusions to Chekhov almost too forthright, though Chekhov could be pretty forthright himself. But the skill of the cast and the tender humanity of Nelson’s writing smooth these hitches. What will we do without another Apple play next fall? On opening night, as the actors bowed, tears glistened in the eyes of many. Were they grieving for Adam? For America? It was Apples that they mourned for.