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Rhinebeck's Richard Nelson on his new play, 'Sorry'
Since it's Election Day, no doubt you have politics on the brain. Rhinebeck writer Richard Nelson is counting on it, as his new play, “Sorry,” opens with a limited three-week engagement at The Public Theater in Manhattan tonight. Not only does the work premiere on Nov. 6 -- it also takes place on the same day.
“Sorry” is the latest in a trio of plays about the Apple family, a Rhinebeck-based clan that has been featured in two other politically themed plays: “That Hopey Changey Thing,” which was set on Election Day 2010, and “Sweet and Sad,” which took place on (and opened on) Sept. 11, 2011.
Nelson is having a busy fall. Besides "Sorry," he also wrote the screenplay for "Hyde Park on Hudson," a movie starring Bill Murray, which will hit theaters Dec. 7.
Hudson Buzz asked Nelson via email about his new play, how Rhinebeck influences his characters and what he hopes audiences will take away from "Sorry."
The latest play about the Apple family takes place on Election Day 2012 and premieres the same day. The previous play about them also followed the same pattern of premiering on the same day the play is set. Why is it important to you to have "Sorry" premiere on Election Day?
I am interested in creating the greatest immediacy with our audiences as possible. Fully recognizing that what an audience brings into the theater is a very significant part of what a play is. What an audience brings actually can change the meaning of the play or rather make a play mean different things.
As I wrote about in "Sweet and Sad," a musical I wrote called "James Joyce's The Dead" was in previews in Boston at the time of 9/ll. A very joyful song called 'Wake the Dead' suddenly became, on 9/12/2001, a very different experience. So by setting the plays on the day they open is an effort to encourage this immediacy, and, if you will, "dialogue" or hold a conversation with the audience in which they are an equal partner. I think that is something theater can uniquely achieve.
Did you decide to have have the Apple family reside in Rhinebeck because you live in the area as well? How does Rhinebeck inform the characters, and the series of plays as a whole?
I have lived in Rhinebeck for 30 years, and raised a family there. It is my home. Yes, Rhinebeck does inform the characters, as it has informed me over the years, in ways I probably do not know myself.
It's a beautiful village, with great history, and has a great range of people living there or on its outskirts. It works in the plays in relation to New York City; characters are always thinking of leaving the city and moving to Rhinebeck or leaving Rhinebeck and moving to the city.
Who do you think is the audience for "Sorry," and what do you hope audiences take away from this play?
I think the audience for "Sorry" is anyone who engages, in their daily lives, with the world, its complexity, its politics, its contradictions. I suppose then that is anyone.
I write in a program note to all the plays: "We have become used to viewing our politics and our political landscape through the lens of journalists or commentators or, now, comedians. Their observations are certainly invaluable to us and the very best of them struggle valiantly to be a check on vanity, arrogance, ignorance and stupidity. However, what has been missing from our public political forum is the individual's voice ... that voice I hear in my own living room, or on a train, or over dinners at a restaurant, or in my own head."
I hope audiences will feel they have heard individual human voices.
"Sorry" opens Nov. 6. For more information, visit publictheater.org. And check back with us later this week for a theater story highlighting new plays featuring stars from the Hudson Valley.
Photo: Jay O. Sanders, Laila Robins, J. Smith-Cameron and Maryann Plunkett in a scene from Richard Nelson's play, "Sorry."