Friday, September 9, 2016

Richard Nelson's Gabriel family plays: reflecting the anxieties of liberal America

Maryann Plunkett, Lynn Hawley, and Meg Gibson in Hungry, Play One of The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family, written and directed by Richard Nelson, running at The Public Theater.

The plot of Hungry, the latest drama from the playwright Richard Nelson, could be scribbled on a sticky note. “A meal is cooked,” Nelson explained over the phone from his home in upstate New York. “And when the meal is cooked, the play is over.”
Yet Hungry, which opened on 4 March at the Public Theater in New York and is the first in a planned trilogy similar to his recent Apple Family plays, is also a startlingly incisive political drama – one that reflects and refracts the anxieties of liberal America, even as a middle-class family does nothing more than prepare a dinner of ratatouille, fresh bread, salad and an apple crisp. (That the production doesn’t then share the meal with the audience has been a source of minor discontent – the smell of that bread is tauntingly delectable.)
The Apple plays, which opened in 2010, describe four siblings – two teachers, a lawyer, a writer – who gradually move from New York City to Rhinebeck, the same quaint upstate New York town that Nelson has inhabited since 1982. Hungry looks a lot like the Apple plays, intentionally so. The setting is familiar, so is the tone, so are two of the actors. Yet Nelson believes that “details are everything and the details should tell huge and deep and different stories”.
Hungry and the two plays to follow, What Did You Expect and Women of a Certain Age, encompass The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family, a trilogy about a different clan of longtime Rhinebeck residents. The subsequent two plays will debut over the next seven months, with the last opening on election night later this year.
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