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Shows Worth Seeing:

Sweet and Sad
By Richard Nelson
Public Theater
425 Lafayette St.

After some three dozen perceptive, eloquent, and efficiently crafted dramas that were blissfully unembarrassed to be dramas, Richard Nelson has evidently fallen in love with the tape-recorder. Sweet and Sad, his second play about the Apple family in the upstate town of Rhinebeck, is as much like a transcribed conversation as the first was, That Hopey Changey Thing. Also like Hopey Changey, set on election night 2010, Sweet and Sad takes place on a purportedly momentous date, the 10th anniversary of 9-11—presumably for the same reason, to lend political significance to modest domestic concerns. In both plays, the modesty of the hyper-realism soon becomes rather immodestly hortatory. In Sweet and Sad, the family gathers over brunch, rakes over various smoldering personal coals, and ruminates on the emotional fallout of the war-on-terror decade. The exchanges are occasionally touching, sometimes tedious, and never much more politically illuminating than disconnected letters to editors. In the end, however, the evening somehow manages to rise above its fizzled effort at meaningfulness to grip you by the throat. In my view, it’s largely because of the acting. Maryann Plunkett is wonderfully circumspect and shrewdly understated as Barbara, a schoolteacher who fled New York City after witnessing the towers’ destruction. Watch the specificity of her expressions, the shades of patience and impatience in her heartbreaking interactions with her amnesiac uncle Benjamin (played by the terrific Jon Devries). Then watch Laila Robins—an undervalued actress who really should be doing Medea and Lady Macbeth at this point in her career—play her various private moments as Barbara’s brittle sister Marian, a woman emotionally disfigured by the suicide of her daughter. Robins’s disquiet when she is not speaking is like a thick gas pervading the room, which essentially substitutes for dramatic tension during much of the evening.

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