Posts Tagged ‘Richard Nelson’

We used to see a lot of US playwright Richard Nelson’s work; he wrote or co-wrote eight plays in eight years between 1989 and 1997 for the RSC. Of late he has been working with the Public Theatre New York, with the four-play Apple family cycle and now the three-play Gabriel family cycle, a fictional family in his real home town of Rhinebeck, New York. The plays cover eight months in 2016, ending two hours before polls closed at the presidential election.

Each play takes place in real time, in the kitchen of the Gabriel family home, with the same six characters, each time preparing a meal. In the first play they are gathered to scatter the ashes of Thomas Gabriel, husband of Mary, son of Patricia and brother of George and Joyce. His first wife Karen is in attendance, as is George’s wife Hannah. Patricia now lives in a home. It’s the day after Mary’s birthday in the second play, as the extent of the mother’s debts becomes clear, they try and work out how to deal with them and Thomas’ first wife Karen has moved into the house with third wife and widow Mary. Mother now has to share a room in the home. By the third play, the house is on the market and everyone is making plans to move on. It’s election day, but we end before polls close and the result is known. As a family of liberals, they wish for and hope for the right result, though not 100% confident in their chosen candidate.

The political situation only creeps onto the last third of each play; until then it’s a gentle Chekhovian family drama. They aren’t political plays as such; the election is a backdrop, though the issues of our times are in the foreground. Staged virtually in-the-round, you feel very connected to the characters. It’s one of the most naturalistic things I’ve ever seen. It’s a slow burn at first, but it draws you in and by the third play I was impatient for it to start. The six actors have been with it for over a year and they appear to have by now inhabited their characters. Meg Gibson, Lynn Hawley, Roberta Maxwell, Jay O Sanders, Maryann Plunkett and Amy Warren are all wonderful.

After a hesitant start, I became captivated in the Gabriel family story. Great theatre.

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When you go and see an already panned show, you often come out thinking ‘well, it wasn’t that bad’. Not so in this case; you come out at the interval thinking ‘get me out of here’, go home and down a large glass of red.

There are many mysteries associated with this show:

  • Had the Menier’s David Brabani read the book or heard the music before he risked tarnishing the Menier brand? 
  • Has the man who directed the original productions of Cabaret, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, Company, Pacific Overtures, Candide, Evita and Phantom of the Opera lost the plot?
  • Has the woman responsible for the wonderful choreography of The Producers and the NT’s Oklahoma had a temporary or permanent loss of taste and style?
  • Did all those experienced and lauded Broadway actors, including a man called Mandy, just come for the daytime sightseeing?
  • Have they got something on the man who has had 10 plays produced by the RSC (not that I ever really understood their obsession with him)? Was he blackmailed?

We may never know…..

Rumour has it the American producers opened it here because the Tony Award laden venue is now such a draw on Broadway, that putting ‘Direct from The Menier Chocolate Factory, London’ puts bums (or should we say butts) on seats. The cast and production team have even more Tony’s than the Menier, so they should know better. No-one can breathe life into a shit show with a bad book and dreadfully twee music. Yes, it’s as bad as the reviews……

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