By Holli Harms
Richard Nelson’s Apple Family Plays, part of his Rhinebeck Panorama, are set around tables, around eating and cooking, around everyday conversations. As the Apple siblings and their spouses talk about the mundane, the beauty of the normal, and the hard, we sit in our assigned seats and happily sit with them, listening and watching.
This time though, we join their Zoom meet-up from the comfort of our own chair. They are all in quarantine, like the rest of us, and are facing their screens, like most of us, and they are talking of how they are coping and managing, like all of us. Each member of the family is a representation of different aspects of life in this pandemic we are living in. Barbara (Maryanne Plunkett) was hospitalized with Covid 19 and is now back at her home with her brother Richard (Jay O. Sanders) who moved in five weeks prior, the two of them taking care of one another. Richard has even started cooking. Their sister, Jane (Sally Murphy) and her husband Tim, (Stephen Kunken) are living in the same home, but Tim, who has a cough, has been quarantined to the bedroom. They talk to one another texting, and yelling through the door where Jane leaves food for him. Marian (Laila Robins), the middle sister, is alone. All are trying to cope in this new normal. Just like all of us.
The play starts with a bar joke. “A horse walks into a bar… “ and from there Mr. Nelson moves in his quiet none rushed breath. He references The Decameron, a book written during the Plague. In the book ten students take refuge from the Black Death where night after night they regal each other with stories. In What Do We Need To Talk About? the siblings tell each other stories and share their worries and thoughts which are our worries and thoughts. “ Will big groups want to sit together?” “Will anyone ever want to go the theatre again?” They speak of the proverbial hamster wheel we have all been on for so long just doing and doing and doing and that this pandemic, this global pandemic, has made us all stop and ask what else should I be doing? Maybe washing dishes, an act that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, is enough.
The play is a lovely slice of our lives right now and how we are dealing with this most unprecedented times.
Actors acting to screens is not an easy task, but here they are not acting, they are being and they are flawless. They ebb and flow like a stream of pure water cascading over rocks and pebbles, trickling in places, swirling momentarily in others but always moving together. They are simply some of our best.
I’ve always felt Mr. Nelson’s work is breathing. The breathing of our lives that includes held breaths, exhales of frustration, sighs, shortened anxiety breaths, and those tension releasing ones that allow us to move on. Breath is life and it flows in his work.
It was a wonderful night at my home watching theater. This is not to say that this will replace actual theater on the contrary. As I sat waiting for the show to start I watched as those viewing grew and grew. It started at a little over a thousand and by the time the show started, it was well past five thousand and now viewing is close to twenty-seven thousand and climbing. Those are theatergoers who look for the day to get back to the theatre. This will not replace us experiencing together and the sheer joy of that but for now it is a good second best.
Go to YouTube and watch NOW. It is seventy minutes of kindness and listening and humor. THROUGH MAY 3 only.
Thank you Richard Nelson for shining a light on all of us.
WHAT DO WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT? written and directed by Richard Nelson
Featuring the return of the original Apple Family performing from their homes, including Stephen Kunken (Tim), Sally Murphy (Jane), Maryann Plunkett (Barbara), Laila Robins (Marian), and Jay O. Sanders (Richard).