A DINNER IN REAL TIME
Richard Nelson’s Sweet and Sad at the Profiles Main Stage has six characters gather around a dining table for 95 minutes of uninterrupted talk on a Sunday afternoon dinner at the Apple home in upstate New York on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 disaster. The action is presented in real time, from the beginning of the meal to its end. Five of the diners are members of the Apple family. The home belongs to Barbara (Kate Harris), a school teacher, who lives with her sister Marian (Kristin Ford), recently separated from her husband for murky reasons and currently living in a state of suppressed hysteria. The family unit is expanded by the attendance of their sister Jane (Harmony France), a writer, and their brother Richard (Darrell Cox), a lawyer who recently gave up his job in the district attorney’s office to join a wealthy corporate law firm. The gathering is rounded out by Benjamin Apple (Robert Breuler on loan from the Steppenwolf Theatre), an actor and the elderly uncle of the siblings who suffers from a deteriorating memory, and Jane’s boyfriend Tim (Eric Burgher), also an actor.
Sweet and Sad is the second in a series of plays Nelson is writing about the Apple family, the first being That Hopey Changey Thing, which portrays the Apple brood on election day in 2010. Nelson obviously wants to create a group portrait of the Apples that blends interior domestic drama (there are references to a tragic death) with political events from the outside world. How much he succeeds resides in the eye of the beholder. Some patrons will be thoroughly engaged by the clash of individual wills among the Apples and their individual assessments of matters at hand, whether they be personal or political or historical. Others will find the play a 95-minute inconclusive chat fest that leaves the listener no wiser at the end of the show than at the beginning, in spite of some flashpoint emotional arguments and chewy exchanges about the meaning of 9/11.
The 9/11 calamity has personal meanings for the various members of the family and the analysis of 9/11 and its historical legacy opens up some heated dialogue, some of which could be considered politically incorrect, like Should the victims of the disaster be considered heroes and Should the government compensate the families of the victims for their loss (there wasn’t compensation after the Oklahoma City bombing).
The family dynamic is pretty much unchanged by the end of the play, in spite of some highly emotional conflicts among the Apples. They all are articulate and outspoken and they don’t pussy foot around the feelings of others, except trying to placate Marian, who is in a distraught state over her marital problems. The talk is nonstop and frequently overlapping as everyone gets in his or her say, but some of the actors mumble, an especially troublesome problem in a language-drenched play like Sweet and Sad. Plus, the continuous action is periodically broken up by sudden brief stoppages marked by a flash and a whirring sound, like an off stage camera was taking a picture. These unrealistic moments in the midst of a thoroughly realistic narrative seemed purposeless and a bit intrusive.
What cannot be challenged is the terrific ensemble performance. This is not a typical show for Profiles, which has carved out a special niche in Chicagoland theater for edgy, physical works that don’t shy away from violence, nudity, and strong language. But the current production, under the insightful direction of Joe Jahraus, is a flawless slice of realistic theater, each performer perfectly capturing the essence of his or her middle class white character. The three females may hold a slight edge over their three male colleagues, but only because Barbara, Marian, and Jane possess more interesting, and volatile personalities. The performances by Ford, Harris, and France continue the Profiles tradition of casting by unfamiliar actresses (all making their Profiles debut) with pinpoint precision. But all the players mesh to give the audience the feeling they are eavesdropping on a family gathering that shifts naturally from the humorous to the serious and occasionally the explosive. Shaun Refro designed the set that fits nicely within the theater’s in-the-round performance area. Mike Durst designed the lighting, Erica Griese the costumes, and Jeffrey Levin the sound.
photos by Michael Brosilow
Sweet and Sad
Profiles Main Stage in Chicago
scheduled to end on October 7, 2012
for tickets, call (773) 549 1815 or visit http://www.profilestheatre.org
for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com