PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 23-29: Of Mice and Men and Violet Coming to Broadway, Stewart and McKellen Open to Raves and The Flea to Expand

By Robert Simonson
29 Nov 2013

Laila Robins, Sally Murphy and Maryann Plunkett in Regular Singing.
Photo by Jan Marcus

The Times offered a "caveat" to its praise, however: "[The] productions seldom give full value to the deep mortal chill of these plays, of the fraught dangers in Pinter's universe or the aching pathos within Beckett's. Ideally, you should leave No Man's Land and Godot with a shiver as well as a smile. These productions mostly stay, comfortably and tantalizingly, on the surface."

The shows also proved a return to form for their director. "Sean Mathias redeems himself for the misstep of Breakfast at Tiffany's on this same Broadway stage last season with his tight direction of the ensemble here," declared Hollywood Reporter.

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The week also saw the opening of Regular Singing, the final work in Richard Nelson's four-play series about one garrulous and close-knit American family. As with the previous three plays about the Apple family of Rhinebeck, NY, it opened on the day the play's action is set: Nov. 22, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Over the past three years, and three preceding dramas, the series has grown in reputation. The first play, 2010's That Hopey Changey Thing, was thought to be an interesting experience in of-the-moment playwriting, and passed without a great deal of notice. The second, Sweet and Sad, received the best notices of the four. By the time the third, Sorry, arrived last year, the Apple Family plays had attained to level of Important Cultural Event.

The cast of Regular Singing includes four actors who have appeared in all of the plays: Maryann Plunkett, Jon DeVries, Laila Robins and Jay O. Sanders. Newly added to the cast were Stephen Kunken and Sally Murphy, who played roles created by J. Smith-Cameron and Shuler Hensley, who are occupied performing other plays this fall.

This ensemble of seasoned character actors — all respected, but none of them stars — was, as usual, lavishly praised. "And so it has fallen to the six-person cast to create the plays each night," wrote New York magazine. "I cannot recall a finer or more extreme example of naturalistic ensemble acting in all my years of theatergoing. I say 'extreme' because naturalism actually gets uncomfortable when it seems to shed the protective layer of artifice. It’s not that the metaphorical fourth wall is broken, it’s that it moves behind you intact; you are sealed in the room. As such, each actor is radically exposed, even when not speaking."

 Continued...