Weddings and funerals bring families together. It’s hard to avoid that. The Apple family has convened in a house on a death watch; a family member is under hospice care in a room upstairs. Richard doesn’t want to linger but is forced to stay as his three sisters welcome the opportunity to confront and advise him on his shortcomings. Uncle Benjamin is in and out of a dementia-induced fog, and Tim, Jane’s boyfriend, though not an Apple, seems to fit right in. As the story unfolds, the audience feels like they’re eavesdropping on a family reconnecting.
“Regular Singing,” now on stage at the Cape Rep Theater, is the final chapter of four plays about the Apples written by Richard Nelson. Each chapter is centered on an infamous historic date; here the setting is the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. If you were of an age to recall 1963, it’s one of those times you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing. “The first time I saw someone die was Lee Harvey Oswald,” said Richard of the assassin’s shooting by Jack Ruby on live TV.
The play is nearly two hours of the six people chatting, eating and drinking. The crisp, natural dialogue is sprinkled with clues on who’s who in the first half hour, so you’re soon aware of who’s upstairs and who’s related to whom. Their conversations are spirited and fascinating. My theater companion said, “Even though I had trouble following some of the readings or stories, I still understood this family’s reminiscing about the past, analyzing their present and even planning the future. Their love and support for each other was evident. I reflected on the play long after we left the theater.”
The performances were superb. One can’t say enough about this ensemble of actors and the chemistry generated between them, from the opening sequence of the group literally setting the stage as they danced around each other seamlessly to the many confrontations at the table, always hitting their marks effortlessly and fluidly. Credit director Julie Allen Hamilton for bringing out these crackerjack performances. Richard Martin (Richard), Claudia Schneider (Barbara), McNeeley Myers (Marian), Jade Schuyler (Jane), Dennis Cunningham (Benjamin) and Marty Brent (Tim) all deserved the standing ovation they got on opening night.
Ryan McGettigan’s set design was tremendous and a highlight of the show. Susan Nicholson’s lighting was spot on and effective; scene changes were delineated with lighting changes under stage manager Kate Gulden’s watchful eye. Carol Sherry’s costume design helped define the characters, and Margaret Bossi’s contribution as music consultant was just the exclamation point the show needed.
Cape Rep’s mission statement in part says they are “a company dedicated to great stories” and that they “choose plays or musicals that speak to us for our time.” In this production, they have succeeded again.
At Cape Rep Theater
Through June 4
Information and reservations: 508-896-1888,www.caperep.org