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A CurtainUp Review
Women of a Certain Age
#3 of 3, The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family
By Elyse Sommer
For links to each play's page with review, go here
I like the Gabriels and have enjoyed eavesdropping on their conversations and interactions about the small and large events in their personal lives but within the context of what's happening outside the larger landscape of Rhinebeck and the country as a whole. But despite my fondness for these characters and the terrific actors portraying them, I wanted to spend election night of this bizarre and ground breaking political year with my own family.
And so, while Women of a Certain Age takes place between 5 and 7pm on November 8, 2016 and had its official opening in real time (as have all the other plays in Richard Nelson's super naturalistic family sagas) when I caught up with the Gabriels' preparations for an election night dinner I already knew what they did not — that they voted for the losing candidate.
Melson's concept of time and date synching began with his first Apple play about the Apple family, That Hopey Changey Thing. It was set on the November 2, 2010, mid-term election night and opened at 7pm that night and sent opening night audiences home in time to watch the outcome on TV.
While Mr. Nelson foresaw that the price of this timeliness made his play potentially disposable, this turned out to be an unnecessary concern.
Audiences fell in love with the Apples and the cast. All four of the plays that were synched to a major event proved to be anything but ephemeral: extending several times— enjoying a series of sold-out marathon performances, a tour of that marathon performance as well as inclusion in Public Television's off-Broadway play series.
The Gabriels triptych is following in the footsteps of its predecessor. Whether you saw Women of a Certain Age before the election or afterwards, this final play continues to be timely. The situation now is a reflection of middle class Americans caught up in events that made this election so contentious and its aftermath so problematic. As the playwright himself commented the anxieties we face now that it's over the subtitle would now be more apt as just "The Election in the Life of One Family."
Seeing how the family's problems have escalated since the middle play, it's easy to foresee the Gabriels' shock and disappointment at Hillary Clinton's defeat. Though not as prosperous as the Apples, the Gabriels are firmly rooted in the college-educated middle class — or so they thought. Their work has been in academia or in the arts or as highly skilled artisans. But while they voted the democratic ticket, they've spiraled closer to the world of the people who voted for Donald Trump.
The cost of Patricia Gabriel's senior residence was already a problem in the last chapter. But having suffered a stroke, the sale of her house has become an immediate reality. What's more George and Hannah are struggling to keep their home so they can care for her there. That means their son has to take out loans to continue college, and Hannah is working as a maid in a local hotel since her catering work has dried up.
Had I been there to watch the rather melancholy preparations for the final exodus from the house, I would have expected to go home and watch Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech, and yet found myself worrying along wth Joyce the Brooklyn costume designer that Mary might be wrong in her certainty that "she's going to win because the other is unthinkable."
Now that the "unthinkable" has happend, Women of a Certain Age has become an even more melancholy experience. Seeing the Gabriels coping with Patricia's deteriorating health, preparing a last meal in the house soon to be taken over (and probably torn down to erect something bigger and with more Trumpian Splendor by one of the rich New Yorkers who've embraced Rhinebeck as a weekend getaway).
Apparently Nelson was asked if he felt the need to write an epilogue for theater goers seeing this concluding episode in the trilogy. But as one of those post-election viewers, think he made the right choice. While the Gabriels might have been too depressed to continue to cook and chitchat with each other once the numbers came in, there's something about this family that's indestructible.
Hannah is helping the non-English speaking other employees of the hotel with their English. George's recollection that less than two miles from the Hotel where his wife now works, is the Astor estate where their grandmother once worked. But while his comment that "it's like we've gone back in time" may be a sad joke, who's to say that this family won't reverse things again. They're that kind of move on and survive Americans.
Despite all the references to these plays as Chekhovian, I still wouldn't put any of these heavy on table talk and preparation plays on a par with Chekhov. Still, Nelson is a very good writer and Women of A Certain Age, like all these Rhinebeck plays has tapped into his gift for finely observed and developed characters. He's also that rare playwright who is a good director who knows how to move his actors around naturally and gracefully I'm sure the scheduled marathon performances will find many enthusiastic ticket buyers. However, the leisurely pace makes this something of a challenge for even Mr. Nelson's most devoted fans. I personally would prefer one visit at a time to Rhinebeck.
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The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family
Women of a Certain Age
Written and directed by Richard Nelson
Cast: Meg Gibson (Karin Gabriel), Lynn Hawley (Hannah Gabriel), Roberta Maxwell (Patricia Gabriel), Maryann Plunkett (Mary Gabriel), Jay O. Sanders (George Gabriel), and Amy Warren (Joyce Gabriel).
Scenic design by Susan Hilferty and Jason Ardizzone-West
Costume design by Susan Hilferty
Lighting design by Jennifer Tipton
S sound design by Scott Lehrer and Will Pickens
Stage Manager: Jared Oberholtzer
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes, no intermission
Public's LuEsther Hall, 425 Lafayette Street (212) 967-7555, www.publictheater.org
From 10/04/16; open 11/08 8, closing 12/04/16.
Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
MARATHON PERFORMANCES: December 10, 11, 14, 17 and 18. . .
Hungry at 1:30 PM what Did You Expectat 4:15 PM, Women Of A Certain Age at 8:00 PM
A tour will begin on Tuesday, January 3, 2017 at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. through Sunday, January 22; and will travel to The Perth International Arts Festival in Australia from Sunday, February 11 through Saturday, February 18; and conclude at the Hong Kong Arts Festival on Wednesday, February 22 through Sunday, February 26.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on November 13, 2016
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