Close-Up on The Apple Family Plays

by Casey de Pont, Editor, thirteen.org

About the Plays

Richard Nelson’s four-play cycle centers around a liberal American family living in Rhinebeck, New York. Each installment premiered on the night of a significant moment in American politics — That Hopey Changey Thing on the eve of the 2010 midterm elections; Sweet and Sad on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks; Sorry on election night in 2012 and Regular Singing on the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Theater-goers witness the Apple family parsing the political landscape around each event in real time, against the backdrop of what they quickly realize is an extraordinarily complicated family dynamic. In a 2011 interview, Nelson describes why he was inspired to work politics into his plays:

“ …In times like our own when human voices seem more disembodied than ever, when words seem pulled from their meanings and turned into rants and weapons, the theater can, I believe, be a necessary home for human talk. That is, a place where human beings talk about their worries, confusions, fears, and loves, and where they also listen.”

About the Playwright

Over his nearly 40 year career, Richard Nelson has written or adapted over 35 plays and seven screenplays, including his Tony-award winning musical James Joyce’s The Dead. From 2005-2008, Nelson served as chair of the playwriting department at the Yale School of Drama. In a 2007 interview with The Brooklyn Rail, Nelson offers guidance for those pursuing careers as writers:

“My advice is always to write, to write what really matters. I ask my students two questions: Why did you write it? And should I watch it? People ask about structure, form, character development, and I’m not even sure what all of that means. Try not to second guess yourself. Form will come if you focus on what you want to say with truth and honesty. Structure is the hand that holds up what you want to say.”

About the Theater

Joseph Papp founded The Shakespeare Workshop in 1954, which was renamed The Joseph Papp Public Theater after his death in 1991. Since its inception, The Public (as it’s colloquially known) has been on the cutting edge of contemporary theater in New York, and is well known for nurturing young talent. The current home of the theater on Astor Place was christened with the premiere of Hair in 1967, and has gone on to host such productions as A Chorus Line; Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk; Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and many more. The Public also produces the free Shakespeare in the Park series, a much-beloved summertime tradition for many New Yorkers.

Theater Close-Up airs Thursdays at at 10 p.m. on WNET through November 27th and Mondays at 10:30 p.m. through December 1st on WLIW21. If you’re in our viewing area, you can also watch online on thirteen.org/theatercloseup.

Learn more about The Public Theater at publictheater.org