Playwright Richard Nelson Faces Surreal Times
Watching the media coverage of this election cycle often feels like we’re watching a surreal, if not downright absurdist, and seemingly never-ending play. In response, a trio of naturalistic, intimate, and graceful plays by Richard Nelson aims to bring audiences back to earth in the most human of ways.
In his newest works, the three-play cycle The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family,” Nelson fashions a clan that indirectly reflects the issues, concerns, and anxieties swirling around this campaign season by focusing on the everyday life of a single family. One by one the plays have been making their premieres at the Public Theater in New York City since February. The last of them, Women of a Certain Age, opens on Election Day, Nov. 8.
The works echo the characters in Nelson’s previous politically timed four-play cycle, The Apple Family: Scenes from Life in the Country, presented at the Public between 2010 and 2013. The “Apple” plays used historic and political events—the 2010 election, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Obama’s reelection in 2012, and the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination in 2013—as backdrops for its domestic dramas. Each play in that series premiered on the day it was set.
For this go-around, the Public is presenting the “Gabriel” plays within a single year—an extraordinary commitment to an American playwright who is working in the epic form while tackling civic issues in the most personal of ways.
Though the presidential campaign swirls around the three plays, the focus is on the immediate concerns of the Gabriels as they struggle with the aftermath of a death in the family, the care of an elderly mother, the class divides in a changing community, a sense of identity, and the pressing economic realities which call into question whether they will be able to keep their home.