Growing up, family dinners were a quick moment of dutiful obligation. With two parents who worked in the unpredictable and demanding medical field, we’d try to convene wherever we could to have a meal together, even if it meant joining dad at the hospital conference room next to the cafeteria. As young kids, we weren’t aware of how important these rituals, as haphazard as they felt, were.
But in hindsight, I treasure these moments. I can only imagine what family dinners will be like now having lost my sister to cancer in July. We’ve yet to have one since then, but the holidays are coming up, and with those events come the tradition of breaking bread at the same table. How much of the conversation will be about her, or how much will we dance around it? Who will sit in her chair, or will we leave it open?
Richard Nelson’s Sweet and Sad takes a look at the Apple family as they convene for dinner prior to a middle school concert organized by the eldest Apple sister, Barbara (Kate Harris), honoring the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Like any family, complex emotions and relationships bubble below the surface, and it takes a bit put the pieces together, such as why middle sister Marion (Kristin Ford) seems so on edge — especially since the family is so reluctant to discuss the reasons behind her odd behavior. Without giving too much away, you learn that someone close to Marion has passed recently (and not from the 9/11 attacks, as one might presume given the auspices of play’s setup).
This cast, under Joe Jahraus’ direction, knows how to deliver Nelson’s naturally meandering script with stunning ease (particularly Robert Breuler as the amnesia-stricken Uncle Benjamin). There are side conversations, interruptions, knowing stares across the table, bursts of laughter and quiet tears. It’s fascinating and fearless work.
To be frank, I left the show feeling a bit manipulated. Putting aside the impetus behind the play’s development (the play premiered in New York on the tenth anniversary of 9/11) and with the understanding that it’s part of a quasi series, it felt that using 9/11 as inspiration seemed to add unnecessary weight to a story that already could stand on its own without the extra layer.
That said, I do appreciate Nelson’s perspective that tragedies don’t have to be major global news items to be relevant and devastating. He also has provocative things to say about the trend of turning victims into heroes, and if the consequence of doing so dilutes the meaning and intent of both words.
Heady stuff to cover in a 1 hour, 40 minute dinner table drama. Pass the introspection, please.
“Sweet and Sad” plays through October 7 at Profile’s Main Stage, 4139 N. Broadway. More info here >