Oscar Wilde remarked in A Woman of No Importance that “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” The dysfunctional Apple family in Studio Theatre’s intimate That Hopey Changey Thing certainly fits Wilde’s sentiment, as they navigate a rocky reunion one home-cooked dish at a time.
Hopey Changey focuses on the Apple clan’s shared dinner in Rhinebeck, NY on Election Day 2010. This slice of quiet Americana a few hours north of New York City provides a respite from a country caught in the throes of Tea Party frenzy. But that doesn’t mean the Apples haven’t brought their own issues with them. The pleasant veneer of setdesigner Debra Booth’s cozy dining room conceals buried doubts and resentments, which slowly emerge as the wine begins to flow.
Oldest sister Barbara, played by the accomplished Sarah Marshall, holds the siblings together with the patience of a natural caretaker. Despite her measured approach, she produces unexpected profound insights, as well as hilarious bouts of profanity, that shake up the pleasantries and petty arguments. Barbara’s emotional depth and control is an aspirational model for the younger siblings, who frequently let their passions spill over and threaten to upset the intimate dinner.
Rick Foucheux brings a cagey realism to the role of big city lawyer Richard. The only brother in the family, he has begun to question the basic political and societal assumptions of his staunch Democrat family. Richard’s surprising career switch elicits immediate criticism from his dyed-in-the-wool younger sisters, which accelerates his cynical awakening. Despite their differences, Foucheux underpins his dark musings with a redeeming warmth that betrays an abiding love for his family.
Richard’s two younger sisters antagonize him about his rightward shift, from entirely different points of view. Forceful Elizabeth Pierotti channels part of the late 2000’s zeitgeist as diehard liberal Marian. She proudly wears her Obama for America pin as she volunteers at local electoral precincts and grills her elderly uncle on straight ticket voting. Pierotti clings stubbornly to Democrat party-line messages even as her family begins to doubt, making her own eventual revelations all the more powerful.
As youngest sister Jane, actress Kimberly Schraf plays a writer and burgeoning sociologist who apparently changes life commitments as easily as someone changes their socks. Schraf’s bubbly charm helps salvage a frequently frustrating character that can’t stop interrupting her siblings and volunteering a new opinion every five minutes. Jane is balanced out by struggling actor boyfriend Tim, played by the affable Jeremy Webb. Tim struggles to carve out a place for himself within the regimented family dynamic. He succeeds only when he lets his creative passion shine through the mask he has adopted for his girlfriend’s family, finding an unlikely ally in aged actor Uncle Benjamin.
That Hopey Changey Thing
Closes December 29, 2013
running in rotating rep with
Sweet and Sad
1501 14th St. NW
Washington, DC 20005
1 hour, 45 minutes with intermission
Tickets: $65 – $75
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
The Apple clan’s emotional center is the amnesiac Benjamin, who disarms the sibling quarreling with his calm, bracingly honest nature. Local favorite Ted Van Griethuysen brings undeniable gravitas as an accomplished actor coping with a rapidly failing memory. While he mostly seems content to sit quietly on the sidelines, Benjamin’s mind clears long enough to provide several moments of astonishing grace amid the family squabbles.
Playwright Richard Nelson distills complex conflict seen at many a Thanksgiving dinner into a tidy one-act. Director Serge Seiden has skillfully delved into Nelson’s script, managing a slate of fine performances and swiftly fleshing out a grab bag of complex personalities. The overall message of That Hopey Changey Thing is unclear, but it made me consider my own politics and wonder how long its been since I last saw my cousins. Particularly at Thanksgiving, these are valuable themes indeed.
That Hopey Changey Thing by Richard Nelson . Directed by Serge Seiden . Featuring Rick Foucheux, Ted van Griethuysen, Sarah and Jeremy Webb . Set design: Debra Booth . Lighting design: Daniel MacLean Wagner . Costume design: Helen Huang . Sound design: Erik Tester . Dramaturg: Adrien-Alice Hansel . Produced by Studio Theatre . Reviewed by Ben Demers.