In addition to the world premiere of the new work, Richard Nelson’s “Apple Family Plays” and “The Gabriels” will stream on Theater Close-Up
Ever feel as if your Zoom sessions are fodder for a play? Using the platform as a stage, the Public Theater is reuniting with writer-director Richard Nelson to bring together the Apple Family — last seen in 2014 — for a special livestream event that speaks to our current moment.
The Public Theater announced Wednesday that it will stream the world premiere of Nelson’s “What do We Need to Talk About?: Conversations on Zoom.” The new work will make its debut April 29 at 7:30 p.m. on YouTube Live and the Public’s website, where it will stream free of charge.
The Public commissioned Nelson to create the work from his home in Rhinebeck, New York, where he is currently self-isolating during the COVID-19 pandemic. The streamable performance will serve as a benefit for the Public, which remains shuttered as the coronavirus outbreak continues.
The piece virtually gathers the original cast of Nelson’s four-cycle presentation “The Apple Family Plays,” which starred Jon DeVries, Stephen Kunken, Sally Murphy, Maryann Plunkett, Laila Robins and Jay O. Sanders as a liberal American family living in Rhinebeck. Continuing the playwright’s dispatches from the Apple family, the new work is likewise set in this universe.
“Richard Nelson has spent the last decade chronicling the way we live now in his glorious plays set in Rhinebeck, NY,” Public Theater Artistic Director Oskar Eustis said. “For ‘What Do We Need to Talk About?’ he has not only turned out a beautiful new play in a matter of days, he has invented a new form: the dramatic Zoom call … For the last time, the Apples are back, and what a wonderful thing it is to welcome them into our homes.”
Presented in conjunction with the new commission, the playwright’s Apple family cycle (in addition to Nelson’s three-part saga with the Gabriel family, also based in Rhinebeck) will stream on Theater Close-Up, available exclusively for public television viewers in the New York City metropolitan region. The plays, which began streaming April 21, will be accessible through May 5.
“These plays have always been, in my mind, about the need to talk, and the need to listen,” Nelson said. “That is, at their heart, they are about our need for each other. Never in my life have I felt that need more than now.”
Threading a line between past and present, each of the four Apple family plays opened and were set on momentous nights in American politics. The first play, “That Hopey Changey Thing,” debuted the night before the 2010 midterm elections. “Sweet and Sad” opened on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The third installment, “Sorry,” raised its curtain on election night in 2012, an evening that brought a second term to President Barack Obama. And the fourth, “Regular Singing,” marked the final chapter of the “Apple Plays” on the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
Accompanied by a sparse stage, the works proceed as conversational pieces, replicating what one might hear while dropping in on someone else’s family unnoticed.
“I last wrote about the Apples in 2014,” Nelson said. “Recently, I began to think about what they would be going through today, in my hometown, Rhinebeck; thought about how close they live to each other, only a street or two apart. How they, like us, are now separated, isolated from each other. And how they, like us, would find ways to come together.”
Top Image: Richard Nelson's "The Apple Family Plays." Photo: Theater Close-Up.