Profiles Theatre “Sweet and Sad” Brings So Much More

Reviewed by Melody Udell

“When has there ever been so much violence in the human race?”

In Richard Nelson’s electric new play ­— the second in a four-piece series — the question posed by Barbara Apple to her family is hard to ignore and more topical than ever. Barbara’s words echoed on stage, and though she was referring to the 9/11 attacks, the audience was no doubt recalling this summer’s deadly shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin and, just that day, a shooting at the Empire State Building.  But Nelson’s play ripples with more than just a profound relevancy. Each character weaves in his or her own poignant stories, sibling squabbles and crushing words left unsaid, revealing a new twist on a familiar theme — family dysfunction is replaced with a family that cannot function.     

Over a late lunch in Rhinebeck, NY, on Sept. 11, 2011, Barbara’s family gets together before attending a 9/11 memorial. Kate Harris plays Barbara with a refreshing emotional ease. Joining her for lunch is her corporate lawyer brother, Richard (Darrell W. Cox), along with their ill-contented sister Jane (Harmony France) and her struggling-actor boyfriend, Tim (Eric Burgher). Marian (Kristin Ford), the third sister who has moved in with Barbara after her daughter’s sudden suicide, helps host the luncheon. Along for the ride is Benjamin (Robert Breuler), a formerly well-known actor now reduced to the siblings’ bumbling uncle suffering from what appears to be Alzheimer’s.  The ensemble cast is convincingly at ease with each other, making each audience member feel more like they’re peering into the dining room window rather than sitting in the Profiles newest, somewhat cramped venue, The Main Stage.

Throughout one meal, the family shares seemingly random stories — tales of Yiddish books, ghosts haunting the Belasco Theatre, the beauty of the train ride upstate — but everything seems to quietly reverberate back to the attacks on 9/11. Fueled by a few glasses of wine, each character abandons tact to probe their own uncouth questions from that day 10 years ago. What makes someone a hero rather than just a victim? Why do the families of 9/11 victims receive federal compensation? Is a memorial for those who were killed or the living?

Nelson doesn’t allow the Apples to form satisfactory answers to these questions, but how each character reacts to each is a telling indication of the strained relationship between each of them. Marian is appalled with her brother’s abrupt Republican alignment, and he is equally shocked with her inability to cope with loss. Uncle Benjamin, spouting off occasional quips and delving into his own compelling history, knits the family back together when the tension gets too high, only to let them slowly unravel again.

“Sweet and Sad” is more than what it purports to be: A sweetly sad, visceral, political, chaotic play about modern family members navigating their own lives — with or without each other — while struggling to uphold their composure in the lingering wake of nonsensical violence. You’ll leave the play not with answers, but with a new set of post-9/11 questions, mulling over today’s myriad ethical grey areas.

“Sweet and Sad” plays through October 7th, 4139 N. Broadway St., Chicago.  Thursday and Friday evenings at 8 p.m.,Saturday at 5 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. ( added performance on Tuesday 9-11 at 8 p.m.

To purchase your tickets call 773-549-1815 or visit  www.profilestheatre.org