When we last checked in with the Gabriels of Rhinebeck, New York, it was the Friday night after Super Tuesday. In between remarks about the most recent Republican debate, the mostly middle-aged members of the middle-class family were preparing dinner and generally feeling downbeat and unsure about the future. Well, little has changed since then.
The Gabriels have returned to the Public Theater in “What Did You Expect?,” the second installment of playwright-director Richard Nelson’s trilogy of dramas about a single American family over the course of this presidential election.
The date on which each play is set coincides with opening night. Since “What Did You Expect?” opened on Friday, Sept. 16, it takes place on Friday, Sept. 16.
The final piece, titled “Women of a Certain Age,” is set on Election Day and will premiere on Election Day, Nov. 8.
Ironically, the Gabriels only rarely bring up presidential politics, making a few references to Donald Trump on television and Hillary Clinton’s health. Nelson is more concerned with capturing the conflicted mood and uneasy emotions of the time in an intimate, recognizable domestic setting.
A few things have changed for the Gabriels over the past few months, especially with regard to their increasingly strained finances, but “What Did You Expect?” is identical in tone, format and length to “Hungry,” the first installment, and I’m willing to bet that “Women of a Certain Age” will be, too.
These kinds of plays are often called “portraits” because they emphasize subdued, ultra-realistic acting and quiet interactions over climactic storytelling or overt movement.
There is much to admire about the scope of Nelson’s project, his empathy for middle-class, aging individuals struggling to get by and the superb work by the six-member cast (including Jay O. Sanders, Maryann Plunkett and Roberta Maxwell), but it can be difficult to remain interested in this for 100 slow, uneventful minutes.