Photo by Joan Marcus
While watching Richard Nelson's Sweet and Sad at the Public Theatre, I found myself thinking of how much I admire Tony Kushner and wondering why I found Kushner's political plays so compelling and Nelson's political play so dull. And here is the conclusion I reached: Nelson's characters care about politics, but Kushner's characters have skin in the game.
Yes, the people in Nelson's drama--an extended family gathering on the tenth anniversary of 9/11--are nicely drawn and beautifully acted. Yes, their little time-honed jabs and ancient assumptions are convincing. Yes, their miscommunications and sorrow are real. But there is no real conflict and no real resolution, and while that doesn't always matter, it matters here. (On the other hand, little happened in Nelson's gorgeous version of James Joyce's The Dead, yet everything happened).
In a note in the program, Artistic Director Oscar Eustis writes of asking Nelson to write a political work, and Sweet and Sad feels like it was indeed written theme-first rather than character- or plot-first. There's almost a sense of, now it's time to have someone express point of view A, now it's time to have someone express point of view B, and so on. Compare this with Kushner's plays, in which political arguments are also arguments for connection, for approval, for love, for life itself, in which politics is a blood sport that matters.
(membership tickets, audience right, a few rows back)