Sweet and Sad
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
September 11, 2011
In his new, aptly named play Sweet and Sad, Richard Nelson reintroduces us to the Apple family, mostly of Rhinebeck, New York. A lot has changed since we last encountered this group of siblings and their uncle, on election night, 2010 [in Nelson's earlier play That Hopey Changey Thing], when they gathered for dinner to discuss family and politics.
It’s September 11, 2011 when Sweet and Sad takes place. The family has gathered for brunch before going to watch their Uncle Benjamin (Jon DeVries) recite a poem at the town’s 9/11 remembrance ceremony. Ben, a formerly fairly well-known actor, is fading in-and-out of haziness and lucidity as he deals with what they refer to as “Amnesia.” The siblings are living their own lives, all of which involve one another. Richard (Jay O. Sanders) is still shocking his three sisters with his recent conversion to the Republican party, while Marian (Laila Robins) has moved in with Barbara (Maryann Plunkett), following the sudden suicide of Marian’s daughter. Back in the City, Jane (J. Smith-Cameron) is closer to getting her book about American Manners published, while her beau Tom (Shuler Hensley) is waiting tables between acting gigs.
Compared to That Hopey Changey Thing, the first play in this proposed tetralogy, Sweet and Sad is far stronger, and a lot more memorable. While the former was firmly ensconced in being November 4, 2010, the latter deals with issues that are timeless in our post-9/11 world: how one deals with sudden loss, how families interact in the face of unspeakable tragedy, and how political discussions are relatively inescapable.
The acting is particularly superb, and, more now than in the first play, they are fully convincing as a family. Hensley mesmerizes in a long monologue about Broadway’s Belasco Theatre and its ghosts, while DeVries is similarly mesmerizing in a monologue about the ghosts of his past. Robins is gut-wrenching as the quietly grieving mother, and Sanders, Plunkett and Smith-Cameron are excellent but with less to do.
Sweet and Sad is a powerful play that’s not just specific to September 11, 2011. It speaks to the age in which we now live. Hopefully the remaining plays will continue this trend. I look forward to seeing what the Apples are dining over next.