For the past four years, many fortunate theatergoers in New York have had the pleasant opportunity of getting to know the Apple family. Living in suburban New York, the Apple family has gotten together over recent years to mark certain dates in history, whether an important anniversary or the evening of a notable historical election. Most recently, on the evening of November 22, the family got together to reflect on the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. While the events that these people are coming together for are actual culturally relevant moments, the family resides in a world of fiction. More specifically, they come from the mind of playwright Richard Nelson, and have come to life for the past four years on New York stages. Most recently, Nelson’s fourth and final chapter of the Apple family’s theatrical world has been staged at the Public Theater under the direction of the author himself. The piece about the JFK anniversary, Regular Singing, runs through December 15.
While I have not had the opportunity to see the pieces (although I would love for Regular Singing to be extended so I can see it in a few weeks), I have read extensively about not only the productions, but also Nelson’s process in writing them. What has struck me about these plays is that the characters all reside in a town that Nelson knows remarkably well, as it is the place he calls home. He has set the pieces in Rhinebeck, New York, and has even gone out of his way to pick out the very house in which the characters interact. As the actress who plays Barbara, Maryann Plunkett, describes, “I arrived in Rhinebeck for a visit before ‘Hopey Changey,” and Richard said, ‘Let’s pick out your house.’”
Here at BU, something that we are told constantly through our training is that specificity is a tool of release. The less specific I am with my approach to the text, the less specific that my acting will be. Reading about Nelson’s plays have provided me with a wonderful model of how specificity can contribute exponentially to the artistic process. Each of the plays that he writes follows a very specific combination of elements, including:
1. The Apple family.
2. An election evening or important date in history.
3. Barbara’s house in Rhinebeck.
Through these combinations, along with extensive historical and dramaturgical research into the event that is taking place on the evening the play is set, Nelson has managed to create four highly successful yet different pieces of theatre. I was recently ecstatic to learn that the cycle of plays will be filmed by PBS for airing in the near future. I have heard much about the Apple family in the past few years, and I could not be more thrilled that a larger audience (myself included) will soon be able to get to know them as audiences in New York have for years.