Theater Review - Regular Singing (NY)

The Apple Family is back in the play “Regular Singing” at The Public LAB Theater for the fourth time talking and talking and talking. It is good, intellectual conversation, even poetic. It is also beautifully acted, particularly by Maryann Plunkett, sympathetic Barbara, and Jay O. Sanders, a blustery Richard in denial, who are sister and brother here, but are married in real life. There is a passion that flows between them which is palpable. When you can hear what the actors have to say, it is meaningful, often gently humorous and mostly sad, but- when they turn their backs away from you and whisper, it is downright frustrating. But as much as we love the discussion, the prescient quotes from famous people, we wish in “Regular Singing” some action would take place. Richard Nelson, the playwright, has brought us a family whom we meet on specific days in history. Play ONE: “The Hopey Changey Thing” is set on Nov. 2, 2010-the night of the mid-term elections. Play TWO: “Sweet and Sad” is set on Sept.11, 2011, the tenth anniversary of 9/11; Play THREE: “Sorry” is set on Nov. 6, 2012, the morning of the presidential election. In “Regular Singing,” the location is Rhinebeck, New York, a country town. We are in the home of Barbara, an unmarried English high school teacher. She is one of three sisters, and the one who takes care of all. Right now, she is caring for her uncle Benjamin, the tone-perfect Jon DeVries; a former well-known actor, he is suffering from dementia; she has also taken into her home, her sister Marian, a third grade teacher played by the slimly beautiful blond Laila Robbins. Marian has lost a son to suicide and is waiting for her ex-husband to die from cancer; he’s actually in the same house. The third sister, played by pretty Sally Murphy, is a non-fiction writer, Jane, who is living with Tim, an actor, who Stephen Kunken depicts with welcome clarity; he never disappoints. The set (Susan Hilferty) is naturalistically simple—a rustic kitchen with a table and some rugs on the floor where all gather to eat and talk. There, while Barbara reads the opinions of her students about JFK’S assassination, we learn that Richard’s wife has left him for another man, and he has taken a job as a lawyer for Governor Cuomo in Albany. Barbara begs him to stay the night, even asking him to move back permanently to Rhinebeck, invoking her absentee father, who deserted the family when they were very young. When Richard, suffused with an undercurrent of emotion, insists that he is fine, it is Sanders finest moment. “Regular Singing” has some lovely moments during its 2 hours without intermission, but toward the end feels like a PBS special, all –knowing and static. It plays at the Pubic Theater Lab on Lafayette Street.

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