note: entire contents copyright 2016 by Sheila Barth
The only element missing in Stoneham Theatre and Gloucester Stage Company’s combined third installation of Richard Nelson’s successful Apple Family plays, is Boston actor Paul Melendy. Under the artistic helm of Stoneham Artistic DirectorDirector Weylin Symes, the rest of this sterling cast, who previously appeared with Melendy in “That Hopey, Changey Thing,” in Stoneham, and “Sweet and Sad,” in Gloucester, are together again in “Sorry,” the strongest, most illuminating play so far. All plays take place in the family’s Rhinebeck,NY, timeworn dining-living room (great set by Crystal Tiala), on Election Days, where the four siblings traditionally gather to eat, vote, and get caught up with each other. Jeff Adelberg’s lighting and David Wilson’s sound effects intensify dramatic scenes in “Sorry,” currently making its New England premiere in Stoneham. Nelson chose Rhinebeck because it’s his hometown. Portraying sibling Jane Apple’s actor-boyfriend, Melendy re-joins the cast in the series’ final play, “Regular Singing,” September 3-25, at New Repertory Theatre in Watertown.
Although the plays are inter-connected, they easily stand alone, so don’t fret if you’ve missed any. However, by seeing all of them, you gain more insight into the Apple siblings and their beloved uncle Benjamin. The bells on the old church toll in Rhinebeck, but not for eldest sibling, Barbara, a devoted, unmarried teacher, who dotes on Benjamin. Multi-award winning Boston actress Karen MacDonald portrays Barbara with pragmatic flair. Eldest sibling, she’s the self-appointed caregiver, who assumed the lion’s share of family responsibility, without complaint. She’s the universal family anchor. Every family has one. Because of the cast’s superb timing and camaraderie, the Apples are real people to us, familiar faces and friends.
The first two plays set the tone and introduced us to this typical, well-educated, middle-class family that’s politically and educationally motivated. They’re Democrats, save married brother. Richard (Bill Mootos), who’s well-off, with three children, but whose marriage seems to be on rocky footing. Richard’s sisters tease and goad him, good-naturedly, for being a Republican - or acting like one - in their Democrat domain. They freely toss jabs and jibes around, about Obama, Romney, Reagan and other political figures. It’s Election Day, 2012. Initially, it seems unrealistic for the family to be up at 5 a.m., wide-eyed and raring to go. Richard has arrived early, too, surprising Barbara, scaring the hell out of her. They swap anecdotes, but something’s amiss. Barbara is edgy, distracted, distraught.
We’ve shared their squabbles, jealousy, heartache, losses, triumphs, affection for each other and their devotion and gratitude to Benjamin,whom Joel Colodner portrays with uncanny realism. They’re also very proud of the retired, famous movie-stage actor, who still reads poems and scripts with exquisite sensitivity. However, since Benjamin’s botched surgery for a heart attack, his memory is failing and he exhibits disturbing aberrations of dementia. Barbara now faces her worst challenge - having to put Benjamin in a nursing home, because of his erratic, mental and physical instability. She’s conflicted. It’s for his own good, her siblings chime. She must do it for his and their safety. The other night, he nearly burned down the house. But Barbara insists she can handle him.
Not really. Benjamin becomes testy, angrily shouting at her, hitting her away. Next moment, he’s loving. Too loving. He’s also depressed, he says. Barbara suggested he write down his thoughts and feelings in a journal. But as he reads excerpts to the siblings, he becomes increasingly agitated. Several pages are torn out. And there’s good reason for it. For theatergoers who have lived through this extremely painful process, the cast’s compelling performance forces us to re-examine our own ambivalence in caring for aging or infirm loved ones. It’s a gut-wrenching, soul-searching reminder. But it has to be done, says newly-divorced sister, Marion Apple Platt (terrific Sarah Newhouse), who returned to the family household after her divorce and personal tragedy. Youngest sister Jane, (Laura Latreille), a firebrand writer, agrees. Richard does, too, and they’re there to help.Latreille adds zest to the family dynamic. and Mootos is also super, but Colodner’s vacant stares, sudden angry outbursts, his tears, confusion, and moments of lucidity are vividly realistic.
BOX INFO: One-act contemporary drama, third of a four-play series, by Richard Nelson, appearing through March 13, Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main St., Stoneham. Contains adult language and situations: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday.Saturday, 8 p.m.; matinees Saturday, 3 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets, $45-$50; seniors, $40-$45; students with valid ID,$20. Visit www.stonehamtheatre.org or call 781-279-2200.