Friday, October 17, 2014

Theater Close-Up: Home Theater on PBS

The cast of the Apple Family Plays: DeVries, Robins, Sanders, Kunken, Plunkett and Murphy.

I was late to the party in discovering Richard Nelson's Apple Family Plays. I caught only the last two during their Off Broadway runs at the Public Theater. So I was delighted to hear that one of New York's PBS stations, WNET, taped all four as part of a TV series called Theater Close-Up, attempting to do for the city's Off Broadway theaters what National Theatre Live has done for theaters in the United Kingdom: expose their work to larger audiences that might not otherwise have a chance to see theater, whether due to money, location, time or other factors.

NT Live does things on a larger scale, broadcasting to movie theaters, and their camerawork is sharper, but I found Theater Close-Up's Oct. 16 third offering, and the first featuring the Apple Family, That Hopey Changey Thing, as fun, insightful and moving as the other installments. All take place in the last four years: two on election night, one on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and one on the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination. Hopey Changey takes place on the night of the 2010 midterm elections, when the Democratic-leaning Apple siblings are assembled in upstate Rhinebeck, N.Y., after voting and before the polls close.

Nelson, who also directed the quartet, brilliantly captures their mood, and by extension, the mood of a certain segment of the U.S. population two years into President Obama's first term: disillusion, determined and at various points in between. Both he and his cast — Jon DeVries, Stephen Kunken, Sally Murphy, Maryann Plunkett, Laila Robins and Jay O. Sanders — manage to do that while still creating characters that are beautifully real and compelling in their faults as well as their virtues, and that you want to spend time with.

I went to WNET's website today to check the schedule for the remaining three plays — Sweet and Sad, Sorry and Regular Singing — and noticed that while the first two are scheduled to air in the next two weeks, nothing is slated for the 10 p.m. time slot on Nov. 6. There's just a blank space after an Endeavour rerun. Which has me wondering if ratings haven't been good and the station has decided to air something else at that time. I found this schedule posted in another area of the website that has Regular Singing slated for Nov. 6 and lists other broadcasts each Thursday through Thanksgiving. But it doesn't include London Wall, the Mint Theater show that launched the series Oct. 2, so I'm not sure how accurate the rest of it is.

I emailed WNET to find out more. I'll see what I learn next week.

UPDATE: And the very efficient viewer-relations department got back to me: Regular Singing is scheduled for Nov. 6 at 10 p.m.; it just hasn't been entered into the online listings yet. Hamish Linklater's play The Vandal follows on Nov. 13.