Could we – must we – really be nearing the end of the Apple family saga? Sad to say, “Sorry” is the penultimate in Richard Nelson’s wonderful series of plays marking transformative moments in the lives of a family of New York liberals, each milestone coinciding with some profound change in the political direction of the country.
In the best piece of ensemble acting this season, this cast of familiars meets on election day in the Rhinebeck home that Barbara Apple (Maryann Plunkett) and her younger sister, Marian (Laila Robins), both teachers, share with Benjamin (Jon DeVries), the elderly uncle who was a respected actor before he lost his memory after a debilitating heart attack.
Besides being Election Day, this is also the day that Uncle Benjamin will be going into a nursing home. In a show of family solidarity, Barbara and Marian are joined by the youngest sister, Jane (J. Smith-Cameron), a freelance writer who lives with her boyfriend in Manhattan, and Richard (Jay O. Sanders), a corporate lawyer with a home in Brooklyn, who is the golden child in this family.
Under the scribe’s own seamless direction, this amazing cast settles in comfortably on Susan Hilferty’s warm set to share another meal at the family dining room. (How comfortably? The bathrobes and slippers say it all.) This time the ritual meal is a pre-dawn breakfast — one of those makeshift meals of cereal and Chinese leftovers that people throw together when they can’t sleep.
Like their Chekhovian role models, the siblings behave in the most natural way, bragging, complaining, teasing, telling funny stories, and dishing up a bit of family gossip. Happy to report, sweet Marian loves teaching third grade, is in charge of a Girl Scout troop, and has acquired a boyfriend. (Too bad he’s got a Ron Paul bumper sticker on his car.)
But this is no average day in the life of this close-knit family, a thoughtful and splendidly articulate group of intellectual professionals who casually turn to books, plays, and works of music and art to get across a talking point. (The jigsaw puzzle they bought Benjamin is after a Renoir painting.) And as much as big sister Barbara bustles around the table, trying to avoid (or even reverse) the inevitable, in a few hours someone will be coming to take Uncle Benjamin away.
Inevitably, the talk veers off into serious political discussions. Richard, who has gone totally corporate and utterly cynical, is no more likely to vote the family Democratic ticket than he would go to church. But even the staunch believers are critical of the Obama administration, and as they prepare themselves to go out to vote, someone suggests that they speak their thoughts out loud — to the president.
If Marian had his ear, she says she’d thank him. But she knows someone who feels, not betrayed, exactly, but something “like the everyday disappointments you have in a long term relationship.” Richard has a question for him: How did you, the voice of our better selves, begin appealing to our hates?”
And Jane is concerned because her son, like other kids in his millennial generation, is disillusioned with both parties. “It’s like two divorcing parents,” he told her. “They hate each other and they’re screaming at each other,” and then they demand that their kids pick a side.
They aren’t geniuses, the Apples, but they’re real and honest — and we’re going to miss them terribly.