Saturday, February 14, 2009

Richard Greenberg's "The American Plan"

TCH and I watched this play, produced by Manhattan Theatre Club, and directed by David Grindley, at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre last Thursday. At the Catskills, a strange young man, Nick Lockridge, woos a Jewish heiress Lili Adler, and they get engaged, with her formidable mother's blessings. Another man, Gil Harbison, appears, who turns out to be a lover the fiance fled. Gil proposes the American plan of the play's title: that they both marry rich women and be good husbands, while maintaining their "special" friendship with each other. 

As far as I can make it out, the play is about this devil's bargain. Richard Greenberg, the playwright, is gay and Jewish. Lili's father, a German Jewish refugee, gained his fortune by allowing manufacturers to sell his inventions without his stigmatized name. For closeted homosexuals and Jewish exiles, postwar America offers the good life in exchange for one's identity. A mentally capricious and compulsive liar, Lili can be seen, TCH suggested, as the collateral damage of such a bargain. 

The idea is promising, but the promise was never fulfilled. The characters were not sufficiently compelling. I could not empathize with damaged Lili, despite a sharply etched performance by Lily Rabe, nor with conflicted Nick. Part of the problem was the men's bland acting, but the thin script did not help. The patter was clever and humorous in places, but not layered and complex. Mercedes Ruehl brought a distinct flair to her performance of Eva, the mother, but the portrayal was not deep. I have no idea why the black maid, Olivia Shaw, was included, except as a sounding board for mother and daughter. 

The production was also less than stellar. The back curtains painted with trees looked flimsy. A front curtain moved distractingly across the stage to allow for scene changes. A single platform pier was rotated for the different scenes, creating a repetitive effect. Kieran Campion, who played Nick, did not maintain, unfortunately, the excitement of his first appearance, heaving himself on deck from the lake, his chiseled chest and strong limbs dripping with his swim.

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