Chow down with the Apples in GSC’s ‘Sweet and Sad’

Karen MacDonald as Barbara Apple; Joel Colodner as Benjamin Apple; Paul Melendy as Tim Andrews; Sarah Newhouse as Marian Apple Platt; Laura Latreille as Jane Apple Halls; Bill Mootos as Richard Apple in “Sweet and Sad.” Photo: Gary NG

Karen MacDonald as Barbara Apple; Joel Colodner as Benjamin Apple; Paul Melendy as Tim Andrews; Sarah Newhouse as Marian Apple Platt; Laura Latreille as Jane Apple Halls; Bill Mootos as Richard Apple in “Sweet and Sad.” Photo: Gary NG

GLOUCESTER — Where were you and what were you doing when the Twin Towers went down?

The members of the Apple Family can recall very keenly. And they also remember how the events of 9/11 set in motion another series of events in their own lives that are still being felt 10 years later, on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011.
That’s the situation in the Gloucester Stage Company’s production of Richard Nelson’s “Sweet and Sad,” now at the GSC through June 20.
The Apple Family dramas are a quartet of plays by Nelson about an upstate New York family, all tied to a particular political moment or historical anniversary.
The Stoneham Theatre is teaming up with the GSC to produce all four over the next two years: “That Hopey Changey Thing” was presented in Stoneham this winter, before the present run of “Sweet and Sad”; “Sorry,“ set on Election Day 2012, is set for the spring of 2016 in Stoneham and “Regular Singing,” the final play in the series, which is set in 2013 on the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, will be presented in the summer of 2016 in Gloucester.
Stoneham Artistic Director Weylin Symes is directing all four plays, and he is hoping his cast of Joel Colodner, Laura Latreille, Karen MacDonald, Paul Melendy, Bill Mootos, and Sarah Newhouse — who have been together for the first two pieces — will stay on for all four plays.
Gloucester found great success with a similar venture when, under the guidance of former Artistic Director Eric Engel, it performed Alan Ayckbourn’s Norman Conquests Trilogy: 2010’s “Table Manners,” 2011’s “Living Together” and 2012’s “Round and Round the Garden.”
The Apples — three sisters, one brother, a boyfriend and an uncle — have gathered at the family homestead in the Dutchess County town of Rhinebeck to share a dinner before embarking to a community concert on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, organized by Rhinebeck teacher Barbara Apple (Karen MacDonald), who lives in the home with her sister and uncle after leaving New York City after 9/11.
Events take place in real time over the course of almost two hours during the dinner, also attended by teacher Marian Apple Platt (Sarah Newhouse), who has moved back into the family home after a personal loss; lawyer Richard Apple (Bill Mootos); divorcee Jane Apple Halls (Laura Latreille), with actor boyfriend Tim Halls (Paul Melendy); and Uncle Benjamin Apple (Joel Colodner), who has lost his memory to a large degree, although the degree of his incapacitation is never clearly spelled out.
Richard has arrived in town shortly after a yearly reunion that began after the loss of three co-workers in the Towers a decade before, but it is now a ritual now seems to have lost its meaning.
Marian is guilt-ridden and has largely withdrawn from society, wracked with guilt and estranged from her husband over the circumstances surrounding the death of daughter Evan.
Family members are walking on eggshells fearful of saying the wrong thing, forcing her to withdraw even more.
Colodner brings warmth and humor to Benjamin as family members continually recall events and stories involving him that have long since vanished from his memory. When reminded that he was once an accomplished actor, he reacts in astonishment. “I was?”
This is the type of show if done well — and it is — you’ll find you’re just another member of the Apple family enjoying drinks, dinner and free-flowing conversations.
Perspectives are important. Jane is adamant if there were real justice in the world — and talent won out over the drive to make money, eyeing Richard — then Tim would be able to act full-time and not have to be a waiter most of the time.
There will be a tearful scene when Barbara, gently coaxing Marian back into the world, will remind of Marian all she did for her daughter, and the good times they had.
Important questions will be asked and debated: Why were the families of the victims of 9/11 compensated and the families of other victims weren’t?
The cast members are actually eating and drinking all the while — hey, the food looked pretty good — in the dining room designed by Crystal Tiala that was brought over from the Stoneham production.
“Sweet and Sad” starts with several advantages: The ease and comfort of actors inhabiting their characters for the second time, making it a more cohesive ensemble, and Symes as a director starting out with a learning curve that is much less steep than before the first play.
If you missed the first play in the cycle — as I did — you do somewhat have that sensation of coming in late for a movie.
“Sweet and Sad” is something you have to stay with early on until you can settle into the rhythms of the Apple family, the relationships among family members and the stories that lie just beneath the surface begin to reveal themselves, much like the layers of an onion being peeled back.
In the end, it was a good meal with funny, thought-provoking guests. To my “hosts“: Hey, dinner was great: Thanks for inviting me. I hope we can do it again some time.
The Gloucester Stage Company production of Richard Nelson’s “Sweet and Sad.”
Directed by Weylin Symes. Set Design: Crystal Tiala. Costumes: Gail Astrid Buckley. Lighting: Russ Smith. Sound: David Wilson. At: Gloucester Stage Company, May 28-June 20, produced in collaboration with the Stoneham Theatre. Tickets: $28, 978-2814433, www.gloucesterstage.com.

 

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