I'd never before seen a Richard Nelson play, but his reputation preceeds him. I knew that he'd done a series of plays like this before--his four so-called Apple family plays, written between 2010 and 1013, focused on the fictional Apple family, also from Rhinebeck, during important moments in contemporary American politics. And I knew that many of my friends and colleagues, all avid theatergoers whose wide-ranging tastes I trust and respect, find Nelson's plays to be indulgent, pointless, boring wastes of time. I was fully prepared to feel much the same way, and am, frankly, still a little surprised that I didn't.
Hungry is slow and ruminative, for sure--it's not paced like most plays are, which is to say that nothing really happens except chat and chopping and kitchen work. But I found myself mesmerized by this small, quiet play, which was so expertly, realistically and convincingly directed by the playwright and performed by an almost all-female, universally strong, cast of six: Mary Ann Plunkett, Roberta Maxwell, Jay O. Sanders, Lynn Hawley, Amy Warren, and Meg Gibson. There is something beautiful about a quiet, unspoken celebration of so-called "women's work," and the peaceful synchronicity that results from it.
Watching people sitting around and chatting for almost two hours is most certainly not for everyone, and I came away from Hungry keenly aware of the reasons why Nelson's plays tend to be very mixed, reception-wise. If, and only if, what I've described above appeals to you, I'd recommend this one; if it doesn't, you'll likely be bored to tears. Me? I came away feeling real affection for the Gabriel family. I am looking forward to visiting with them again when the next two plays open, and the 2016 presidential election looms ever larger.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have a curious craving for ratatouille and fresh bread.