On the fiftieth anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, the Apple family gathers to celebrate the life of an ailing relative: talking, eating, laughing, and singing. This slice-of-life snapshot shows how our family histories can intersect with the history of our country. Featuring the same cast of Boston-area favorites that audiences have adored in the first three Apple Family plays, Regular Singing is the triumphant conclusion to Richard Nelson’s American epic.
“A rare and radiant mirror of the way we live – and fail to live – now.” – The New York Times
The Charles Mosesian Theater is equipped with a Tele-Coil Loop System. Patrons with hearing aids and cochlear implants can set their devices to “T-Coil” to take advantage of the assistive listening system. Patrons wishing for assistive listening devices may pick up a headset from the Box Office upon arrival at the theater. Click here to learn more.
The following performances are followed by a talkback discussion with members of the cast and New Rep staff:
Thursday 9/8, 7:30pm
Saturday 9/17, 3pm
Sunday 9/18, 2pm
Thursday 9/22, 2pm
Sunday 9/25 at 2pm
Program Notes: Regular Singing
Regular Singing is the final play in Richard Nelson’s celebrated four-play series about the fictional Apple family of Rhinebeck, New York. Each play addresses political subject matter through the perspectives of various family members. “We’ve become used to viewing our politics and our political landscape through the lens of journalists or commentators who are now comedians,” Nelson says. “Their observations are certainly invaluable to us,” he continues. “However, what has been missing from our political forum is the individual’s voice.” Seeking an outlet for political expression other than television’s daily rants, Nelson sees theatre as the ideal venue for authentic human exchange. To that end, he stages each of the Apple Family Plays around a meal and captures the dinner table conversation as it shifts back and forth between issues of personal and national significance.
Written and originally performed between 2010 and 2013, each play in the cycle focuses on a particular period of time in modern history: the 2010 midterm elections (That Hopey Changey Thing), the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks (Sweet and Sad), Election Day 2012 (Sorry), and the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination (Regular Singing). Rather than choosing what Nelson calls a “societal day event,” like New Year’s Eve or the Fourth of July, he situates the plays at “communal” moments when the characters, along with the audience, struggle to understand their shared experience. Together, the plays provide a rich story arc covering several years in the characters’ lives, yet each play stands on its own as a compelling drama.
Richard Nelson set the Apple Family Plays in Rhinebeck, New York, where he and his wife raised two children and where he still lives and works. He based Barbara and Benjamin Apple’s fictional home on a modest yellow house that actually exists on Center Street but that he’s never visited. On a walk through the historic village with Maryann Plunkett, the actress who originated the role of Barbara, Nelson asked her to help him select a house where a family could feel safe enough to express their thoughts and feelings about the world outside. “It was one of my happiest memories as an actor,” Plunkett says. “There were a few choices, but I loved the white picket fence, the lack of pretension. It looked like a home.”
As he was writing the plays, and especially when he felt stuck, Nelson often strolled along the streets for inspiration. He occasionally ate lunch at the historic Beekman Arms Inn, which his characters refer to with pride. “I literally imagine every moment of the plays somewhere in my own village,” Nelson says.
The Apples are not modeled directly after people Nelson knows, but their conversations reflect the kind of discussions Nelson and his wife engage in with the small group of friends they regularly entertain. Together, they talk about their lives, their hopes, their work, their families, what they’ve recently read and seen. “Invariably politics does come up,” Nelson says. “In the safety of my living room I was hearing things that I hadn’t heard anywhere else: misgivings and worries about Obama or other Democrats, for instance, and concern that this country and the people running it, no matter the party, weren’t living up to any kind of ideals.” For his plays, Nelson chose topics he thought “worried liberals of a certain generation” around Rhinebeck would be talking about at a particular point in time.
Commissioned by the Public Theater of New York, the Apple Family Plays premiered across four years, from 2010 to 1013, on the actual dates the individual plays are set and thus took place in real time as real events unfolded on the national stage. Each play had its own independent run at the Public before being presented in repertory. Richard Nelson himself directed all of the plays with the same cast members, sets, props, lighting, and sound. The series received critical acclaim and earned a multitude of awards, including an Obie and a New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best ensemble acting.
Filmed in 2013, the Apple Family Plays premiered on New York-area PBS television in 2014.
The Apple Family Plays embarked on a European tour in Spring 2015, nearly two years after the plays had concluded their repertory runs at the Public Theater. Nelson directed the productions with original company members at festivals in Germany, England, and Austria.
In 2015, Stoneham Theatre staged the New England premiere of That Hopey Changey Thing, the first of the Apple Family Plays presented in collaboration with Gloucester Stage. Gloucester Stage produced the second play, Sweet and Sad, that same year. In spring 2016, Stoneham Theatre produced Sorry, and this fall Stoneham has partnered with New Rep to bring the cycle to completion with Regular Singing. Stoneham Theatre’s Producing Artistic Director, Weylin Symes, has directed the same cast and design team for all four plays. The sets and props have travelled between stages.
The Ambition of the Apple Family Plays
To playwright Richard Nelson, the Apple Family Plays are about “the need to talk, the need to listen, the need for theater, the need to be in the same room together and the need to know, in some small and even some bigger ways, that we are not alone.” One of the most satisfying outcomes of his playwriting process, he says, was finding a way to address political questions not through grand ideas or ideology but through simple human talk. As Ben Brantley of The New York Times notes, the Apple Family Plays show “how world events are refracted and reflected in our own living and dining rooms in ways we’re not always aware of.” He adds that, “as no other works of theater have,” all four dramas “vibrantly locate the intersection of public events and private lives in these United States of the early 21st century.”