“Haven’t we done this enough? Haven’t we grieved enough?” Studio Theatre’s new production Sweet and Sad dares to ask this question about the anniversary of 9/11, examining America’s fractured concepts of security and justice through the eyes of the dysfunctional Apple family.
In Sweet and Sad, playwright Richard Nelson continues his Apple Family Plays series with a measured followup to That Hopey Changey Thing, this one, set in Rhinebeck, NY one year later. On September 11, 2011, the Apple Family sits down to share a meal and work through various hardships and thoughts on their collective and personal responses to tragedy in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks. Sweet and Sad swaps Hopey Changey‘s crackling mix of optimism and conflict with somber contemplation befitting a 9/11 retrospective. Director Serge Seiden and his cast deserve hefty praise for engineering such a rapid emotional turnaround, which must occur almost daily as the performers rotate the two plays in repertory.
In the most dramatic metamorphosis, Elizabeth Pierotti brings a wounded grace to the role of Rhinebeck teacher Marian, whose ruinous family issues in the past year have reduced her to a meek shut-in. Previously, Marian proudly volunteered throughout Rhinebeck and regularly held forth on her deeply held political beliefs. Now she simply stays in the house and only talks to her immediate family. Marion’s vulnerability and constant retreat represent an impressive 180 degree turn from her Hopey Changey turn as a fiery Democrat activist.
Her sister Jane, played by Kimberly Schraf, puts on a brave face regarding her stalled writing dreams and boyfriend Tim’s grim employment prospects. Schraf perfectly channels an archetypal family busybody, insisting everything is for the best and emitting a constant stream of consciousness that rarely coalesces into decent conversation. Actor Jeremy Webb brings an edgy cynicism to the role of Tim, an NYC actor with a rapidly closing career window. Tim’s theatrical prospects have darkened in the past year, and the transition from his sunny disposition in Hopey Changey is startling. The two make a perfect couple, suffering career slumps together and launching cynical barbs at rich NYC denizens – like Jane and Marian’s brother Richard.
Richard himself has struggled with his transition from lawyer for the state of New York to “BigLaw” corporate cog, resulting in health issues and a fading zest for life. Richard’s world-weary cloud occasionally lifts when he takes his sisters’ bait and launches into his preferred pastime – arguing over politics and culture as the family’s token iconoclast. Rick Foucheux turns in a fine performance, creating a curmudgeon who loves to push his sisters’ buttons yet is sympathetic enough to keep the audience on his side.
Sarah Marshall once again plays the family’s oldest and most even-keeled sibling, Barbara. Barbara balances out the other Apple siblings’ quarreling natures with the hard-earned patience of “a saint” – an identity she repeatedly rejects. Barbara radiates an infectious inner warmth as she lovingly cares for family patriarch uncle Benjamin and reminisces about mentoring her high school students for the challenges of real life.
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Sweet and SadThing
Closes December 29, 2013
running in rotating rep with
The Hopey Changey Thing
1501 14th St. NW
Washington, DC 20005
1 hour, 50 minutes with intermission
Tickets: $65 – $75
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
Ted van Griethuysen once again emerges as the emotional center of the Apple clan as forgetful, aged thespian Benjamin. Benjamin’s lack of short term memory makes holding grudges impossible. When he is lucid, he is able to slice through his family’s squabbling with the clear-minded reason of a man unburdened by life’s accumulation of regrets. Late in the play, van Griethuysen uses his esteemed oratory skills to deliver a spine-tingling rendition of a Walt Whitman war requiem. The Whitman poem neatly focuses the Apples’ conflicts, regrets, and fears into a few moving passages, allowing them to come together and face an uncertain future as a strong family unit.
At a time when many tiptoe around clashing family opinions at the holiday dinner table, Sweet and Sad refuses to tread lightly among sensitive topics of loss, remembrance, and the politics of tragedy. The play deals with these lofty themes in a very personal way, allowing an intimate escape from the brutal echo chamber of the internet and mass media. While the play sometimes overreaches, it hits the emotional mark when it matters. Seiden and his sober cast provide a glimmer of hope that community and real dialogue are enough to navigate the rocky shoals of modern American life.
Sweet and Sad 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.