It’s understandable to expect gravitas from any play commemorating the 10th anniversary of 9/11, but “Sweet and Sad,” now playing at The Public Theater, doesn’t lean on its context. Informality and levity balance its coexisting titular characteristics.
The show, which opened Sunday, moves around the subject of 9/11 rather than approaching it directly — to wit, it takes place in Rhinebeck, an hour outside of Manhattan. Given this perspective, the messages won’t be outdated when the play’s run ends Sept. 25.
The Apples, introduced by playwright-director Richard Nelson in “That Hopey Changy Thing,” get together for the first time since we met them last year when they gathered on the eve of midterm elections in 2010. The original cast fully reprises previous roles. Dining together on Sept. 11, 2011, the Apples catch up, revisit history and poke fun at each other, fondly.
The small stage, with seating on three sides, loans to the atmosphere of intimacy. Its dressing is simple, with only rugs, tables and chairs. But, like the cleverly restrained acting (notably Jay O. Sanders as Richard Apple) and naturalistic dialogue, the staging makes a lot out of a little.
Seeing how the Apples have grown since last year helps qualify how all New Yorkers have changed since Sept. 11, 2001. Our rituals, remembrances and capacity to move forward seem manageable through the lens of this microcosm. Don’t worry if you haven’t seen the first Apple play; like the immediately likeable Uncle Ben (Jon Devries), who suffers amnesia, you may even benefit from looking on without former knowledge and with an open mind.