By Richard Nelson
Directed by Joe Jahraus
Produced by Profiles Theatre
At The Main Stage, Chicago
“Is today really a day to talk politics?” -Barbara Apple
Powerful naturalistic drama chuck full of the direct and indirect affects of world events on family members
Sweet and Sad, the second of Richard Nelson’s trilogy, (That Hopey Changey Thing being the first), is Nelson’s Chekhovian styled family drama that gives audiences a realistic glimpse into the heart of human behavior in the context of the family. It is September 11, 2011, the tenth anniversary of the infamous attack on the World Trade Center and the Apple family has gathered at Barbara Apple’s home in upstate Rhinebeck, New York. Nelson uses the family brunch setting to explore the family dynamic in terms of how world events actually directly and indirectly affects individuals and the family relationships. These folks speak about their losses, memories and we see the struggle by all to maintain the moral equilibrium in a fast-changing world that somehow escapes them.
Nelson is a master at capturing naturalistic speech patterns as his family members awkwardly move around unspoken minefields. The realistic passive-aggressive dialogue and the invertible opening of old wounds as the family struggles to keep civility is vividly played out with looks and non-verbal gestures by director Joe Jahraus’ terrific cast. Nelson has created a host of memorable characters from Uncle Benjamin (Robert Breuler) suffering from dementia to Barbara (Kate Harris) the patriarchal oldest sister to Richard (Darrell W. Cox) the brother who sold out to the corporate interests to Marian (Kristin Ford) the sister struggling to cope with the suicide of her daughter and the breakup of her marriage to Jane (Harmony France) the sister who has a relationship with the actor/waiter Tim (Eric Burger).
The family dinner set in the middle of an in-the round seating gives an intimacy to the production. The food looked so good, I was tempted to ask: “pass the mashed potatoes.” This fabulous cast (one of the best ever assembled at Profiles Theatre) most effectively weaved Nelson’s ambitious agenda of political, social, and moral themes seamlessly through the casual conversation. Utilizing the dominant “what September 11th means” theme, Nelson packs the drama with ideas such as the role of theater in shaping public opinion as well as how our memories and past perceptions shape our present world views. The vigorous family interaction is shaded by the past as each member struggles to cope with social change.
I was particularly impressed with the work of Eric Burgher as the frustrated actor/waiter. Kate Harris’ deep strength comes across as she tries to keep the family together. Robert Breuler is most effective in the thankless role as Uncle Benjamin. The one hour and forty minute drama was a fascinating journey into dynamic of today’s families. Richard Nelson sure has his pulse on the state of the nation as witnessed by the American family. The Profiles Theatre production is flawless, and thought provoking. It is one of the finest show they have mounted in years. It is a “must see” hit.
Tsalk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: August 24, 2012
At Profiles Theatre’s The Main Stage, 4139 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL, call 773-549-1815, tickets $35 – $40, Thursdays @ Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 5 & 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm, running time is 1 hour, 40 minutes without intermission, through October 7, 2012