Even if you’ve never met the Apples — the Rhinebeck, N.Y., residents at the core Richard Nelson’s four-play cycle — you’ll feel right at home with them in play No. 3, the poignant, unassuming Sorry (now at Off Broadway’s Public Theater through Nov. 18).
Perhaps it’s the breakfast of cold Chinese food and screw-top red wine. (Theater characters — they’re just like us!) Or maybe it’s the way the three Chekhovian sisters Barbara (Maryann Plunkett), Marian (Laila Robins), and Jane (J. Smith-Cameron) huddle around the dining room table in plaid pajama pants, thick socks, and flannel robes. Don’t they look cozy?!? There’s something about this tight-knit family that’s immediately warm and welcoming — even if the surprise early arrival of brother Richard (Jay O. Sanders) elicits a stream of obscenities from high-strung Barbara, and even if they’re about to move their uncle Benjamin (Jon DeVries) to a ”home.” Incidentally, it’s Election Day: Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. No wonder they’re boozing it up at breakfast.
Like its predecessors, Sorry was written to open the day on which it’s set. Nelson’s first ”Apple play,” That Hopey Changey Thing — you can thank Sarah Palin for the title — opened Nov. 2, 2010, the night Andrew Cuomo was elected New York’s governor; the second, 2011’s Sweet and Sad, took place on the 10th anniversary of 9/11; the fourth will reportedly be set on Nov. 22, 2013, the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. They’ve all been directed by the playwright and feature the same superb ensemble of actors in the same roles. (One, Jane’s actor boyfriend, is missing from Sorry, though he’s frequently mentioned; he’s in Chicago appearing in a musical ”based on that Joyce story” — a wink-wink reference to James Joyce’s The Dead, which won Nelson a 2000 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical.) If you missed either or both of the first two, that won’t keep you from understanding or enjoying Sorry. But anyone who was lucky enough to see either (or both) will take distinct pleasure in seeing how these characters have grown — or how they haven’t.
The lightning-in-a-bottle nature of the works — particularly Sorry, with its references to Hurricane Sandy and even the approaching nor’easter — imbues them with a thrilling immediacy. They also could become out of date very quickly — especially Sorry, with its talk of Obama, Romney, and their negative campaigning. Nelson himself has even said ”they might be called ‘disposable’ plays.” But the settings — timely or historically significant though they may be — are simply the foundation. They give the Apples something to argue about around the table; but they’re not the reason they’re actually gathered around the table. Uncle Benjamin’s declining mental health — his Alzheimer’s-like condition is described in Hopey Changey as ”amnesia” — is far more important than figuring out ”what we’re rooting for.” (”We know what we’re rooting against,” Richard claims.) Outside, everyone may be going to the polls. But inside, there are egg rolls to be eaten and sibling secrets to be spilled. It could be any day — or any family. A?
(Tickets: PublicTheater.org or 212-967-7555)