It’s that seeming extraneousness that leaves me slightly less satisfied with “And So We Come Forth” than I was with any previous Apple iteration. An epidemic does not make a very good antagonist, at least in a family where everyone is now well and in a state that has flattened the curve. The way the family wrangles with it, without regard to its more devastating effects elsewhere, does not tell us much, as all the other plays have done, about what the struggle to be good Americans means.
The switch to Zoom, while enhancing the feeling of appointment TV, and doing no harm to the excellence of production, has thus underlined the feeling that the Apples, as subjects of dramatic inquiry, have come unmoored from the world the rest of us live in. It is, after all, on social media, on phones and apps, that the most profound questions of our day are being addressed in real time.
“And So We Come Forth” — the title comes from Dante’s “Inferno” — seems to swerve from those questions, even as it embraces their medium. The play, about a white family in a town that is nearly 90 percent white as well, alludes to Black Lives Matter only once and only indirectly, in an amusing anecdote about the siblings’ grandmother walking through Harlem in the 1970s. It’s telling but, at least for me, not telling enough.
Nelson implicitly argues against that sort of litmus-test critique in the way he questions but ultimately defends the value of literature, dramatic or otherwise. He admits into evidence, in his typical second-cousin-once-removed style, an email from a friend of the Apples, a Russian-born professor who now finds Proust “useless and dated” and Faulkner no longer worthy of curiosity. She blames the internet for having ruined discourse with its Soviet-style oversight, its relentless spies “hoping to catch an awkward word or phrase and report it to authorities.”
True enough — and an Apple episode that hit that theme squarely might be quite thrilling. (Richard gets canceled? Jane gets doxxed?) This one, lovely as it is, and despite being a benefit for the Actors Fund, cannot resolve the contradiction between the faith in humanism that has animated the series thus far and the facts on the ground.
Seemingly admitting that, it sends us off with an aria from “Così Fan Tutte” — “Soave sia il vento” — as if to reassert, on the evidence of Mozart, the healing or at least the distracting power of art.