NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Monday, March 7, 2016, 3:26 PM
A meal is made in real time in an upstate kitchen in the superb new drama “Hungry.” Vegetables are sliced for ratatouille and apples are peeled for a crisp. But anxiety, thick enough to cut with a knife, is what author and director Richard Nelson is really exploring in this gorgeously acted portrait of American lives in limbo.
Set on March 4, 2016, the play is the first of three works collectively called “The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family.” The trilogy, which will conclude on election night in November, follows the formula Nelson used so effectively four times in “The Apple Family Plays.”
Like that series, this play unfolds on the date of the show’s premiere. It reverberates with up-to-the-minute references, like the GOP debate debacle. “You watched that?” asks one of the Gabriels. “How could you watch that?” Performed by a flawless ensemble, “Hungry” always goes down very easy even if, as in the Apple plays, this production isn’t action-packed. It’s about conversation — talk that’s freighted with plainspoken eloquence, humor, remorse and anger. The acting is so natural it delivers a fly-on-the-wall voyeuristic thrill.
A memorial service for Thomas Gabriel, a writer, has inspired his loved ones to assemble at his home in Rhinebeck, N.Y. — not far from the fictional Apples, and, for that matter, Nelson’s home. The gathering includes Thomas’ widow Mary (Maryann Plunkett), his third wife; his brother George (Jay O. Sanders); George’s wife Hannah (Lynn Hawley) and his sister Joyce (Amy Warren); and George and Joyce’s elderly mother Patricia (Roberta Maxwell). Karin (Meg Gibson), Thomas’ first wife, is also present to stir the plot and the pot of veggies on the stove. The presence of Plunkett, who’s exquisite, and Sanders, who were in the Apple plays, is a canny way to suggest that most families have a lot in common.
Like most people, these liberal Democrats are mournful about the past and wary about the future. They’re annoyed about the gap between the rich and the working class and how everything — even their beloved local museum — has become so politicized that there’s no room for free thought. Disenchanted somewhat with Hillary Clinton, they’re nervous about Donald Trump, who’s never mentioned by name. Still, it’s pretty clear he inspires Hannah’s question: “Don’t you feel something really bad is going to happen?”
Considering that the surname Gabriel suggests a messenger from beyond, that line echoes loudly. Something bad may indeed be waiting down the road. But with the Gabriels around something very good is simmering.