Thursday, November 10, 2016

Off-Broadway Review—Richard Nelson’s “Women of a Certain Age”

Women of a Certain Age
Written and directed by Richard Nelson
Performances through December 4, 2016
The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, New York, NY
publictheater.org

Mary Ann Plunkett, Patricia Maxwell, Amy Warrren and Jay O. Sanders in Women of a Certain Age (photo: Joan Marcus)
Leave it to Richard Nelson to write so elegantly about the most inelegant era in our country’s recent history. The third play of Nelson’s Gabriel Family trilogy, Women of a Certain Age, finds the family (82-year-old matriarch Patricia, her daughter Joyce, son George, his wife Hannah and their dead brother Thomas’s wives, number one Karen and number three—and widow—Mary) gathered at the long-time Rhinebeck, NY family home this past Election Night, November 8, which is when I saw it.

For 100 minutes, these six people discuss many things, including their sense of loss—Thomas’s death a year earlier, the family house going up for sale, Patricia now in an assisted-living center—and their hope for the future—George and Hannah’s college-age son voting for the first time and the possibility of the first female president—all while preparing a meal that was the Gabriel kids’ favorite from an old Betty Crocker cookbook.

In my previous reviews of the Gabriel plays, I may have downplayed the importance of food in these seminal works: Nelson’s characters sit in the kitchen in all three plays, preparing and cooking an actual meal, which the actors do as believably and entertainingly as they embody these rational, relentlessly normal people. When the Shepard’s pie comes out of the oven, piping hot, the actors leave the stage, one by one, as the family prepares to eat in the dining room and the play ends.

It all seems simple, even simplistic, in summary, but Nelson’s exquisitely detailed writing—his often funny and pointed dialogue takes mundanity to new heights of poetic realism—and deft directing are joined by the flawless performances of Roberta Maxwell (Patricia), Jay O. Sanders (George), Lynn Hawley (Hannah), Amy Warren (Joyce), Meg Gibson (Karin) and Mary Ann Plunkett (Mary) to make this intimate but expansive play help in the healing that our divided nation will be needing come January 20.

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