Hard to say goodbye to 'Apple Family'

The cast of Regular Singing, written and directed The cast of Regular Singing, written and directed by Richard Nelson, running at The Public Theater in repertory with The Apple Family Plays. (2013) Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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After a holiday weekend, it is natural to miss the family. But the family I'm missing now is named Apple and lives up the Hudson in Rhinebeck.

These are the six people I saw -- probably for the last time -- Friday night, the same ones with whom I recently spent three other intimate, deeply moving and satisfying evenings. They are the people whom audiences at the Public Theater have been fortunate to get to know in "The Apple Family: Scenes from Life in the Country," an extraordinary four-play cycle that playwright/director Richard Nelson has set in the historic old town where he and his own family live.

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The plays run between 90 minutes and two hours without a break. Each is set in the dining room of Barbara Apple's house and all officially opened on the day on which they are set. "That Hopey Changey Thing" began this quiet, uncannily natural and conversational journey on the night of the 2010 midterm elections. "Sweet and Sad" took place on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and "Sorry," on the day of Obama's second election.

I didn't see them the first time around, mostly because I like to spend elections and other special nights watching them unfold at home on TV news. Besides, who knew at the start that Nelson would be writing a tetralogy and that it would add up to one of the major American plays of our time?

That said, "Regular Singing," which opened on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK feels more schematic and sentimental than the others. Perhaps Nelson felt the weight of having to leave these people and strained to give the everyday truths more of an obvious shape. Someone -- the ex-husband of one of the three Apple sisters -- is dying of cancer upstairs, which brings in hymn singing and mortality discussions that feel more like filler than real feelings.

More important, however, we get to share a time capsule of life and up-to-the-moment progressive politics with these same people again. There is not a false note in the ensemble -- Maryann Plunkett, Laila Robins, Jay O. Sanders, Sally Murphy, Stephen Kunken and Jon Devries, whose portrayal of the uncle, a major actor with amnesia, will stay with me forever.

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A warning: The theater is too vast for the delicate talk, which can be hard to hear from seats on the sides. A more urgent warning: The plays are only scheduled to run in repertory and marathons through Dec. 15. We need this family to stay.

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