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A CurtainUp Prequel
3 Days of Rain,
Dave Lohrey's review of Three Days of Rain in California
Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain is an interesting play to consider. Having seen the play three times, I am now convinced that it not only deserved its nomination for the Pulitzer, but should have won it, regardless of the competition. Yet, it is not difficult to understand why it may have failed to find its audience. In the first place, it is a small play with only three characters, and works best on an intimate stage, such as the space at the Evidence Room. Secondly, like all great plays, it is fundamentally not topical, and therefore does not easily satisfy contemporary tastes. The themes are universal and profound, but they are not easily reduced to an advertiser's snappy phrase.
When I saw the world premiere a few years back at South Coast Rep I believed I had witnessed the definitive production. It had received rave reviews, tickets were hard to come by, and the audience knew it was seeing something special. But I wanted more, so a year later I made a point of seeing it again at San Jose Rep, but the production seemed flat and, although I thought the problem might have been the cavernous auditorium, I went away having second doubts about the play itself.
The current production at the Evidence Room has restored my faith in Greenberg's beautiful play, convincing me once again that Three Days of Rain is not only his best play but one of the finest of 1990s. It is worth saying again that the space itself is perfectly suited to the intimacy demanded by this work. The Evidence Room deserves praise for selecting works that not only fit their space but which their company can fully realize.
The play opens as Walker (Leo Marks) awaits the arrival of his sister Nan (Alicia Hoge) and their life-long friend Pip (Jason Adams). Together they are scheduled to hear the reading of the will left by Walker and Nan's father, a renowned architect, who was in business with Pip's father. Walker, who missed his father's funeral, is an unstable drifter currently crashing on the floor of an abandoned building once occupied by his parents. His sister seems rather together, although she shows the strain of dealing with her brilliant - though demented - brother, her now-deceased father, and her institutionalized mother. Pip, on the other hand, is happy and successful, a rather good-looking soap-opera actor who loves life and can't understand Walker's torment. At issue in the disposition of the father's estate is ownership of the landmark residence designed by Pip's and Walker's fathers. The first act ends with the audience wondering why Walker's father left the building to Pip, why the mother eventually flipped out, and just what it was between Pip and Walker's fathers that fueled their art.
It should be mentioned that this is Walker's story. It is his neurosis and his curiosity that drive the first act. The audience follows. It is Walker who finds and becomes fascinated by his father's diary. In it Walker reads the lines "Three Days of Rain" which he takes literally and understands to be a weather report. In the diary Walker also finds evidence of his father's silence, his aloofness and his heartlessness. The play is about Walker's presumption and about building lives on assumptions -- and about our laughable belief that we understand and know other people.
The second act introduces us to the parents, in their golden youth, when life for them was all possibility. Here we find out what really happened during those three days of rain and just why it was that that's all Walker's father (Ned) had to say about them. He and Theo have just set up shop as a couple of architects. At the beginning of the act, Theo rules the roost. He is tall, handsome, has a sweetheart (Lina), and is expected by all - including Theo - to be the next Frank Lloyd Wright. Ned, who is a disabled stutterer, plays tag-along. By the end of the act, Ned and Lina are lovers, and Ned has begun what we understand will become one of the most honored designs in modern architecture. Needless to say, Theo is out.
The relationship between the two acts is left to the audience. How does the past affect the present, or more specifically how are the sins of the fathers visited upon the sons? There are clues, there is "exposition", but there are no answers, unless, like Walker, you need them -- that is to say that you need to feel that you've got it all figured out. The secret of this play's success lies in the work the playwright requires of the audience. It functions intellectually as a mystery that leaves the audience dying to find out "who did it."
The success of this production can be found in the superb acting under the direction of Pamela Gordon. Leo Marks as Walker plays the crushed egomaniac, alternatively crying and lashing out. He's the classic snob without accomplishment. Nobody can do or be enough for him. Nobody can meet his high standards. Marks plays him brilliantly as a fidgeting emotional brute. This compelling performance is only to be topped in the second act by Marks himself, now playing Walker's father, Ned, a self-contained genius waiting to be freed like a genie from his bottle.
Alicia Hoge is persuasive in the less demanding role of Nan in the first act, but really comes to life in the second act as she essays the role of Lina. This is a Southern belle who doesn't know when to stop. Greenberg breaks the stereotype by making her as smart as she is sexy. What really works in the relationship between Lina and Ned is our belief that both of them are really in love with Theo. Frustration is an aphrodisiac for the new lovers. Clearly, Lina's mental collapse is related to Theo's premature death.
Jason Adams provides comic relief as the well-adjusted Pip. He knows just the right way to convey humility without it seeming false. Adams is equally compelling as Pip's dad, Theo, fashioning a character of far greater confidence, if not outright arrogance. We have to believe that Theo's got something both Lina and Ned want, and Adams pull it off.
Designed by Ames Ingham, the rather spartan first act set works well as a long-abandoned New York City apartment. In the second act, we see the same space some forty years earlier come to fully to life, furnished in classic 1960's modern. John Zalewski provides thoroughly compelling sound effects to create an off stage rain storm.
Following the Evidence Room's powerful production of Edward Bond's Saved, this Three Days of Rain tells me that big things can happen in small places. Los Angeles has had to wait a long time for a production of this wonderful play by Richard Greenberg. Pamela Gordon and her superb cast have made it seem well worth the wait.