(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 5/7.)
British drama tends to be driven by politics and American by relationships. That, at least, is what we assume. Such generalisations are blown apart by Richard Nelson’s extraordinary quartet of plays, which dominated the opening weekend of this year’s Brighton festival.
Lasting close to seven hours in total, the plays use the crises within a single family to explore the larger confusions of liberal America. Each play shows the family gathering in Rhinebeck, a historic village in upstate New York, and is set on a significant date. Starting on the night of the mid-term elections in 2010, they go on to coincide with the 10th anniversary of 9/11, election day in 2012 and the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. Nelson’s gift is to use the family dynamics as a guide to the national mood.