We’re back again with the Gabriel family in Play 2 of “The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family,” written and directed by Richard Nelson, especially known for his “The Apple Family” plays. As before, the Gabriels walk on stage bearing food, and positioning furniture, before sitting at the table of the home in Rhinebeck, N.Y. and also engaging in the process of preparing dinner.
As in the first time around in “Hungry,” the cast members, with perfect ensemble acting, are more impressive than the dialogue the author has provided them. On this occasion, there is a little more bite to the conversation, as the impeding election rears its head, but not with any especially deep discussion beyond the appreciation of how toxic it is and the sense of fear about the state of society and the world that permeates the atmosphere and forecasts an uncertain future.
What also comes across is the combination of concern about finances and the feeling left in the room by the one who is not there, the late Thomas, a novelist and playwright who has left bereft his third wife Mary, a retired doctor (the excellent Maryann Plunkett). During the course of the gathering she reads from notes assembled while searching through her husband’s writings, in effect giving him an unseen presence at the table.
Conversation is generally on the quiet side, which stresses the intimacy and Chekhovian tone. Members of the clan include Thomas’s brother George, a piano teacher and cabinetmaker played by the always impressive J. O. Sanders, along with George’s wife Hannah (Lynn Hawley) and Thomas’s mother, Patricia, portrayed by Roberta Maxwell with a mix of sadness, worry and spirit. There is Joyce, Thomas’s sister (Amy Warren), who designs costumes, and Karen, Thomas’s first wife (Meg Gibson), an actress and teacher who is there as a boarder.
This is an intellectual lot, and one might expect conversation to sparkle more than it does, save for some laugh-eliciting outbursts. The time is very current, Friday, September 16, 2016, precisely at 6:30 p.m. During the play’s 1 hour and 40 minutes the characters move about quite a bit, which is a blessing because in theater in the round (or three quarters in this case) backs are frequently turned to the audience, which leaves some straining to hear quiet talk at such moments.
Nelson has built a following with his plays, and fans now await the third in this series. At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. Phone: 212-967-7555. Reviewed September 25, 2016.