“Sorry” is the third play in playwright Richard Nelson’s four-part cycle “The Apple Family Plays,” which mixes contemporary political history with the story of a looming family tragedy. The action in “Sorry” takes place in Rhinebeck, New York, in 2012, on Election Day morning. (The first play in the cycle, “That Hopey Changey Thing,” is also set in Rhinebeck, taking place in 2010, at the mid-term elections.)
I don’t deny Nelson’s longueurs are more interesting than the crises and climaxes of ninety-nine percent of other plays, but “Sorry” disappointed me. Not because I expected the sarcastic witticisms, jokes, stories and sight-gags in “Hopey Changey” that broke the tension and moved the action forward so cleverly, but because twenty minutes in, I saw that the playwright had miscalculated. Nelson begins with an earnest, sincere, drawn-out attempt to invest his hour-and fifty-minute-long play with a John Gabriel Borkman atmosphere of impending tragedy—the committal of Uncle Benjy (Mike Nussbaum) to an assisted living residence.
But playgoers get what Nelson is driving at five minutes in. We understand that Barbara Apple (Janet Ulrich Brooks) is a thunderhead waiting to burst. We understand her tortured guilt. We understand her rage, her urge to lash out at whatever stands in her way.
So slowly does all this happen that the revelation that Uncle Benjy’s worsening dementia has turned him into a danger to Barbara falls flat. It shocks nobody. Neither does Barbara’s keeping secret Benjy’s newest loss of control from her sisters and brother. “Sorry” should have moved on to new action long before a sprightly gem of political discussion pops up to freshen our attention in the eightieth minute or so.
I would watch this splendid TimeLine Theatre cast play the 1950s TV show “Leave It to Beaver.” Their memory, their intensity, their virtuosity, their knack for making characters memorable, their faultless ensemble—all this is done in a careless, casual, familial way that takes endless hours to perfect, and is a joy to watch. Despite its faults, “Sorry” is crammed with ideas, upsetting ideas, unconventional ideas, fresh ideas. Go see it. (Bill Sweetland)