The 2016 election year was full of fervent debate—and scandal. But even though national politics loomed large, the squabbles, chores, and challenges of everyday life still happened. And for the fictitious Gabriel family of Rhinebeck—a lot of life happened in the kitchen.
In 2016, Hudson Valley-based playwright Richard Nelson wrote a series of plays: "Hungry," "What Did You Expect?," and "Women of a Certain Age." These three works offer snapshots of the Gabriel family at different points during 2016 and together make up The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family.
Six characters, ranging from age 52 to 81, enter and exit the kitchen of George and Hannah Gabriel on South Street in Rhinebeck. They shout to the living room and grab ingredients from the refrigerator and pantry. Everyone pitches in on the meal preparation and the conversation, talking over each other, interrupting with questions and commands regarding the culinary tasks at hand.While the election year is used to frame the timeline of the plays, politics is not a prevalent theme. Instead, talk of the election is scantily peppered throughout other conversations.
George is a cabinetmaker who seems to keep getting the short end of the stick. He used to teach piano, but he had to sell the piano to pay for his 81-year-old mother Patricia's assisted living. They would have sold Patricia's house, but she took out a reverse mortgage without telling anyone. George's brother, Thomas, a 64-year-old playwright and novelist, has just died. Thomas's third wife and first wife both occupy the kitchen in all three plays. Hannah, George's wife, and Joyce, Thomas' sister, round out the cast. Actress, costume designer, caterer, cabinetmaker/piano teacher, retired doctor and recent widow, aging mother—everyone has something to talk about besides politics.
The singular setting of a family kitchen keeps the drama compact. Money trouble, aging parents, the death of a loved one, children in college (when money is tight), first wife and recent widow—all these conditions are hot kernels that are perpetually popping into the conversation with a bang. This triptych of plays offers an intimate look into the household of a not-particularly-political American family during an election year. The Gabriels weren't discussing candidates and policy at length. They were simply chatting in the kitchen, grappling in real time with issues of money, history, art, and politics. Through Nelson's spot-on dialog, the characters reveal themselves through this everyday conversation. Absorbed in their own reality, the Gabriels carry on, only to wake up one day with a president none of them thought would win.