Richard Nelson’s new Apple Family Play – Variety3 min read
The Apple family is still hanging in there after more than three months of homelessness. Its resilience, however, has been ever-fragile and more published “and so we come forward”, the latest up-to-date entry in Richard Nelson’s remarkable, intimate story.
For his second live-streamed session – again making the case for this fresh expression of art-making – Nelson’s Patriotic Panorama has discovered a new field as the Carnavirus epidemic continues to grow in this middle-class, well-educated family living in the Rhinebe, NY. Gone are the shocks and confusions, a reflection of the deeper feelings of change that challenge the fundamentals of a family – and a nation.
These characters – which Nelson first portrayed in his four-play Apple series, which was performed at New York’s public theater from 2010 to 2013 – are always minute and, indirectly, a reflection of the changed world beyond their safe haven in the Hudson Valley. But this time the outside momentum is even bigger as the four adult siblings are sharing a virtual family dinner, where you listen intently, not too far away, to hear the rumblings of the social changes of the earthquake.
Joined online by the partner of one of the siblings who is coming to see his daughter at a socially distant graduation party in Brooklyn. But it’s a generation’s distance that’s not scary, but the apples are raising the bar of concern, as they have seen their children and students move away from them in ways they never even imagined.
Again, Nelson, who also directed his brilliant actors, started the zoom call with a short talk about Take Out Food Real Estate. But things are even more exciting in the first weeks of the epidemic than in the last session.
Richard (J. O. Sanders), a state lawyer in the Cuomo administration, is still thinking about retiring as he looks for a new home. He is with his oldest sibling Barbara (Marinan Plunkett), who was a high school English teacher to correct, but they are becoming clear in each other’s nerves. Feeling more comfortable but with her own pain Marian (Layla Robbins) is an elementary school teacher who lives alone and feels somewhat comfortable in the front yard garden, but eager to be touched by people.
Jane (Sally Murphy), a freelance writer and the youngest of the siblings, is more anxious, germ-free and predatory than ever before. Meanwhile, Tim (Stephen Kunken) is working with Jane on the possibility of returning with her normal daughter and her troubled friend.
What is revealed in this casual-but-talking conversation is to widen the generation gap and the question of this quintessence – especially if the epidemic continues without sight – if there is any place for any of them in the future. Barbara graduating students are not advised to do so in the face of deadly reactions.
And they are not alone. One of their young adult children remembers a long time ago a family story that never hints at unconscious racism, never admits it. A stubbornness of cultural aesthetics is suggested when Barbara scolds Richard for saying “it’s not music” for his innocent humming. The artistic legacy of a poet’s friend is discarded by his heirs and almost lost to the dumpster. Another friend questions Faulkner’s relevance.
But Nelson will not abandon this old generation altogether because Barbara quotes a Russian friend who warned against encouraging the reform movement. Yet, in the midst of isolation, social and political upheavals take their toll. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt this old one,” says Barbara
Like the previous zoom call, Nelson gives the torch through fine art, first coming from an optimistic quote from Dante, when his hero comes out of hell: “And so we came out to see the stars.” It comes from Mozart’s gentle piece that Barbara hears alone after her family’s screen closes. It’s a spooky figure because he thinks over questions without seeming answers.