Medium 83381 3
Already closed

What Did You Expect?: Election Year in the Life of One Family, Play Two

Members say: Great acting, Absorbing, Intelligent, Relevant, Resonant

About the show

Tony Award-winning playwright and director Richard Nelson returns to The Public Theater with part two of his new three-play cycle about a year in the life of the Gabriels of Rhinebeck, New York.

... Read more

'What Did You Expect?' brings us back to the Gabriels' kitchen, with the country now in the midst of the general election for president. Over the course of one evening in the house they grew up in, history (both theirs and our country's), money, politics, family, art, and culture are chopped up and mixed together while a meal is made.

Find tickets from $20

Box office
Lotterytix available

Direct from box office

The most selection and price points
In-house box office


Try your luck for a deep discount
Digital Lottery

Other sellers

Good seats, but price varies

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

The New York Times

"'What Did You Expect?' wears its topicality with modest stealth...It is a testament to Nelson’s well-honed craft, and that of his cast, that these topics are seldom addressed directly yet are embedded in the play’s every fragment. His family cycles inhabit the here and now with an unobtrusive thoroughness I’ve never encountered elsewhere in the theater...Every performance here glows with a compelling, specifically embodied mixture of trepidation and hope." Full Review


"'What Did You Expect?' bears a strong if superficial resemblance to the playwright-director’s beloved series of plays about the Apple family. Both families live in Rhinebeck, N.Y. , struggle with the loss of a patriarch, and are deeply unsettled by the state of the nation. But the sensitive, literate Gabriels are an intellectual and economic notch below the Apples, which makes this quintessential American family more vulnerable — and more precious." Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"While the play is undeniably static, such timeliness and the talented ensemble's fully lived-in performances ensure that you're utterly drawn into the family's world. The effect is akin to eavesdropping on a private family conversation, so intimate that when a bottle of wine is opened you feel mildly insulted not to be offered a glass...This edition particularly benefits from Maxwell's increased presence." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"By exploring the underwater part of the iceberg whose visible tip is politics, Nelson is challenging the idea of what political theater can be...The extreme naturalism of the writing is made delightful by the intelligence and humor of the characters...To keep material that deliberately abjures extremes of expression from turning merely mild, an extreme form of naturalistic acting must take up the slack…The Public’s cast is heartbreaking in its fierce, ordinary, believability." Full Review


"There's a specific acting company for each series, too, six performers who essay the same roles in each work. The result is the creation of an actual, believable family, the kind you can expect to be stung by the immensity of losing a brother or a spouse, and one that is, despite the goings-on, immensely enjoyable to spend time with...Director Nelson and the six-member company convey their bleak emotions with great finesse." Full Review

Time Out New York

"The show blends into the world around it; likewise, the plays themselves blur into one another…But while it's warmly familiar and gorgeously performed, ‘What Did You Expect?’ sometimes misses its step. Writing at top speed (three plays in a year!), Nelson takes insufficient care over his textures: overfull with cultural trivia and self-referential winking, ‘Expect's’ less strong than the first Gabriel play ‘Hungry,’ itself hastier than the whole crop of Apples. Still, there's nourishment here." Full Review

The Huffington Post

"The central player in ‘What Did You Expect?’ is Ms. Plunkett as the widow. It’s impossible to say whether this is the writing, or simply the power of the actor; presumably both…Plunkett and her husband Sanders, both of whom are astonishingly good, were also mainstays of Nelson’s four Apple Family plays…While the six plays written thus far have all been masterful, the Gabriel plays might have an edge thanks to the lessons Nelson learned from the Apples...The entire cast remains excellent." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"The fate of the Gabriels is rendered without hysteria or speechmaking. But if you listen closely to them, you'll feel the pressure they're under, their sense that shadows are gathering nearer, ready to engulf them...Under Nelson's direction, his company has perfected a low-key, highly naturalistic acting style that perfectly suits the novelistic detail of his writing. The Gabriels can be enjoyed simply for an ensemble so seamless that you often feel like you are eavesdropping on old friends." Full Review

DC Theatre Scene

"The main strength of 'What Did You Expect?' is not in the sparse dose of explicitly political discussion, nor in the factual tidbits, but in the way that the six actors credibly inhabit their characters. There is little conventionally dramatic in the play; rather, we witness the believable rhythms of real time as it unfolds. Theatergoers must abandon traditional notions of what constitutes a drama in order to appreciate Nelson’s approach, but the acting makes this much easier to do so." Full Review

Front Row Center

"They do such a good job of not talking about what is going on that the conversation sinks to a mild pot of gruel...Like the unremarkable evening it chronicles, this play is also unremarkable–in every way. The actors carry on as best they can, pulling the shroud of conversation close about them and picking through it for scraps of life. The conversation is so lugubrious that one gets the feeling that they are simply waiting for their cue to speak. The one exception to this is Roberta Maxwell." Full Review

AM New York

"These kinds of plays are often called 'portraits' because they emphasize subdued, ultra-realistic acting and quiet interactions over climactic storytelling or overt movement. There is much to admire about the scope of Nelson’s project, his empathy for middle-class, aging individuals struggling to get by and the superb work by the six-member cast, but it can be difficult to remain interested in this for 100 slow, uneventful minutes." Full Review

The Clyde Fitch Report

"'The Apple Family Plays' were a remarkable achievement in American theater and 'The Gabriel Family Plays,' though familiar in construction, are no less remarkable for their astonishing naturalism and for much, much more...Given the high quality of Nelson’s writing and the playwright’s direction of the cast, any cavil about not enough Trump denigration taking place and not enough misgiving about Clinton being expressed is just that: a cavil." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"Nelson is virtuosic in his ability to tackle these issues...The acting, again by a peerless ensemble, bestows unheard-of life on this painfully naturalistic rendering of a people and a country in crisis. Plunkett remains absolutely stunning as Mary...She provides the riveting core for the evening—and, to this point, this trilogy...The problem with 'What Did You Expect?' is that, like its predecessor, it feels more like a proof-of-concept exercise than a play." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

"Like watching paint dry, with no drama, no secrets, no nothing...I keep hoping for these plays to get better, to do something, say something and, alas, they do not. It takes every ounce of my being to stay awake and care. Even the actors don’t change. Granted they are all extremely good actors, so natural, too natural...If plays by Richard Nelson were what was considered great American drama when I was growing up, I don’t think I would have fallen in love with theatre." Full Review

New York Daily News

"The play serves up a slice of humanity. It takes an intimate view of one family to look more universally at all people...Talk is peppered with direct and indirect allusions to the candidates and the chaos. All that anxiety doesn’t make the Gabriels’ intimate challenges easier — or make for the calmest dining experience. There’s no heeding the age-old rule not to discuss politics at mealtime. The stakes are too high...So pass the casserole — and the antacid." Full Review


"Plunkett, a Tony winner, has anchored both the Apple and Gabriel family stories, giving life to the under-the-skin anxieties of the times while embodying the quiet but ineffable force of Nelson’s subtle dramaturgy. The playwright’s evanescent staging compels us to listen, and the storytelling thrums with power that, like the upright Bechstein that’s soon to disappear, is felt profoundly in its absence." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"These actors, all working seamlessly together, are giving us the purest and most straight forward depiction of a family that I have seen in a long time...It’s an intense and lovely piece of storytelling, meandering at moments, but engaging over all. The cast are pros throughout, and their difficulties are easily felt by us all. What Nelson is doing with this family and this three part 'Election Year' saga is impressive." Full Review


"While the focus remains on the personal, world events and the tempestuous current election campaign are very much reflected in the Gabriels' lives...As this surreal and seemingly endless campaign has reached a point where it's hard to stay fully engaged, the same is true for this middle play which was 'frozen' before the upcoming debates and could benefit from a little less talk." Full Review


“‘The Gabriels’ cycle define a moment in time, as well as being chamber plays, small cast plays set in one place. Not much happens but much gets said and discussed. Described as ‘Chekhovian’, ‘What Did You Expect?’ is less so as there really is no dramatic event as in such Chekhov plays as ‘The Cherry Orchard’ or ‘The Seagull’. ‘What Did You Expect?’ offers its own rewards but may not be for all theatergoers.” Full Review

Bob's Theater Blog

"As usual, Nelson brings things right up to date with a reference to Hillary’s pneumonia and Jimmy Fallon’s messing up Donald Trump’s hair on TV. The political elements seemed less important and less integral this time, almost as if they were grafted onto the play. The varied conversations also seemed less part of a coherent whole this time. Anyone who has not seen the previous play may not get a lot out of this one. Nevertheless, the ensemble cast is once again superb." Full Review


"Quietly dazzling...Our uncanny, intimate relationship with the Gabriel family of Rhinebeck, New York, has burrowed to an even deeper level of closeness...The style is just as leisurely and conversational, again creating an eerie verisimilitude from exquisitely understated acting, the complex psychology of honesty and characters with far-ranging interests and plenty to say...Whatever happens on Election night, it’s oddly comforting to know the Gabriels will be in it with us." Full Review

Wolf Entertainment Guide

"The cast members, with perfect ensemble acting, are more impressive than the dialogue the author has provided them...This is an intellectual lot, and one might expect conversation to sparkle more than it does, save for some laugh-eliciting outbursts...Backs are frequently turned to the audience, which leaves some straining to hear quiet talk at such moments." Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

"There’s no real plot and nothing much happens. The Gabriels’ chatter, which takes in Herman Melville and Edith Wharton, is unusually cultivated, but they never embark on any great flights of eloquence. The results are as close to a perfect illusion as theatre can get, an effect heightened by the fact that each installment is set in real time on opening night...Some might say this is a bit like watching paint dry. If so, the painting is by Vermeer." Full Review


"The genius is in the way their story is told. The masterful actors, their small playing space surrounded on three sides by the audience, speak in normal, conversational tones, creating a feeling of incredible closeness. You have a sense of eavesdropping on their intimate conversations...Oddly, however, in a hyper-partisan national atmosphere, the actual campaign is seldom mentioned...It’s hard to believe these aware people wouldn’t have more to say." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"Resounds with up-to-the minute politics...The real meat of the play is referencing societal injustices and keeping a political agenda, expected in a theatrical environment–a liberalism that sometimes needs to answer many questions...The conversations are simply stated, the realities hit home and one doesn’t need to look up words or do research to find that all human beings desire the same basics and that they want to know there is still hope." Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

Great acting, Disappointing, Excruciating, Overrated, Slow

See it if You love Richard Nelson’s naturalistic, kitchen-table drama plays.

Don't see it if You’d be bored by listening to a regular family sit around a table having a boring conversation about literature and mortgages.

Thought-provoking, Masterful, Relevant, Resonant, Stellar ensemble

See it if you saw the 1st play, Hungry. While prior knowledge isn't necessary, it's helpful to understand where the characters are coming from.

Don't see it if you enjoy action-packed, large-scale plays. This is a family drama that while more conversational, is incredibly relevant.

Also I went to the Gabriels marathon and saw all three plays in a row. I fe... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Intelligent, Relevant

See it if You have seen the first and will see the third play In the Gabriels. Brilliant writing, staging, acting..

Don't see it if I think you should see it...although this strikes me as the least of the three, seen altogether they are transporting.

Funny, Thought-provoking, Resonant, Engaging, Realistic

See it if you enjoy small-focus theater. Through one family, we see much of America. The gap between rich and poor, city and country, young and old.

Don't see it if you want to escape real life problems. Many of the issues resonated deeply. I liked the quiet exchanges, but others may prefer more drama.

Also It was fun to see more of Roberta Maxwell in this installment. Her ant... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Resonant, Entertaining, Great staging

See it if See it!! Very impressive acting. So naturalistic. Wonderful writing. Very engaging throughout

Don't see it if You don't want to see a play where all the action takes place around the kitchen table. It is interesting (and funny!), but also intense

Disappointing, Slow, Quiet, Unobtrusive

See it if you saw the first installment of the trilogy and are committed to seeing the rest.

Don't see it if you're craving absorbing drama -- this family is super low-key even when in conflict.

Indulgent, Disappointing, Slow, Uninteresting, A bit borin

See it if you want to support The Public Theater.

Don't see it if you want an absorbing story. The election was supposed to be a major part of the play, but it was hardly mentioned.

Great acting, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Great writing, Slow

See it if You enjoy Richard Nelson's work: slow, thought provoking theater vs "entertainment!", and "real world" plays.

Don't see it if You're tired of reality and aren't looking to have it punch you in the gut. Don't see this if you are looking to escape.

Great acting, Intelligent, Great writing, Slow

See it if love great natural acting, are a fan of these plays by Richard Nelson where everyday people struggle to make their way in difficult times.

Don't see it if you need more plot than this play delivers, or if you can't identify, for example, w/ the financial crises of hard working people.

Absorbing, Delightful, Thought-provoking, Profound, Riveting

See it if You care about the contemporary American experience during this election year. Love amazing acting.

Don't see it if Need action on stage.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Overrated, Lacking

See it if you saw Part 1 and/or plan to see Part 3 of the Gabriels trilogy; you want to see some of the most realistic, believable acting anywhere.

Don't see it if you're hungry. (Another complete meal is prepared on stage.) Or if you've invested in this family expecting profundities on current events.

Absorbing, Great acting, Resonant, Great writing, Great staging

See it if you want to experience theater up close and personal. It is a glimpse of our lives that we can brilliantly watch objectively.

Don't see it if You like your shows big and loud. It is an intimate piece that makes you wanna do life all over again and hopefully get it right this time.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Great writing, Great staging

See it if If you like an intimate,fly on the wall experience this is for is so real that you feel you know these people.

Don't see it if It's very subtle and you have to really pay attention or you won't get it

Funny, Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Resonant

See it if You like family living room style drama - but not over-wrought. You like topical musings by smart believable characters

Don't see it if You need a strong narrative arc or some teeth-rattling big revel that presents a game-changer. This was a slow burn

Great acting, Masterful, Great writing, Slow

See it if As others have said, the cast and writing was so comfortable in its skin that we felt as though we were a fly on the wall at a family dinner

Don't see it if So what?

Absorbing, Great acting, Resonant

See it if We sit in the dark watching a family in their kitchen preparing a meal. It is so natural you cannot believe they are acting.

Don't see it if You do not appreciate small, intimate, natural, shows. Surely, a performer who appears not to be acting is doing the most superb job.

Absorbing, Intelligent, Intense, Relevant, Resonant

See it if You like subtle theater with a flare for nuance. You like ensemble casts w/ the dynamic pairing of Maryann Plunkett and Jay O. Sanders

Don't see it if You want a fast paced, obvious show.

Intelligent, Masterful, Great writing, Great staging, Seamless ensemble work

See it if you enjoyed part 1 of this trilogy, or you are a fan of the Apple family plays. Superb ensemble work. Requires attentive listening.

Don't see it if you have trouble focusing on people sitting around a kitchen table and talking. If you need action or moving scenery, skip it.

Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Great staging

See it if you are capable of appreciating really fine acting that doesn't involve catastrophic circumstances but just the challenges of daily living.

Don't see it if you always want adventure, action, and high drama.

Absorbing, Delightful, Great acting, Intelligent, Relevant

See it if You liked the first of the Gabriel plays-hunger. Same excellent acting, relevant politically and socially. You feel like you know the people

Don't see it if Looking for flashy fast paced theatrics with cliff hanging story.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Intelligent, Great writing

See it if You care about our current world and levanto the left. Beautifully real and insanely intimate

Don't see it if No big grand life changing moments. Just real and quiet family dynamics.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Resonant, Great writing

See it if you believe good theater depends on its actors and writers. Great ensemble cast with lots of chemistry. Not one line feels insincere.

Don't see it if you don't like hanging out with your relatives or you prefer high octane action.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Relevant, Intimate

See it if You like great acting and thoughtful writing. You care about the problems of real people.

Don't see it if You prefer action and easy to digest entertainment.

Absorbing, Great acting, Relevant, Great writing, Great staging

See it if Enjoy poignant pieces about society today and topical issues.

Don't see it if If slow moving pointed dialogue is not your thing

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Moving

See it if you're up for a masterfully-executed quiet, absorbing, & profoundly-intimate ensemble drama

Don't see it if you can't with a play about the economic precarity & existential crises confronting middle-aged, middle-class white people in upstate ny

Cast & Creatives (14)