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A CurtainUpBerkshire Review
Three Days of Rain
Richard Greenberg is one of the American theater's most talented and prolific playwrights. He ventures fearlessly into new areas of the human landscape. His writing is a pungent mix of wit and intelligence, his characters endlessly varied and complex.
Three Days of Rain, a runner up for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize, is a cleverly constructed exploration of how the personalieties and life choices of parents affect their children. Serious issues of family secrets and legacies (concrete and emotional) are laced with humor and irony. Like last Off-Broadway season's The Dazzle, which was based on the famously reclusive Collyer Brothers, Three Days of Rain is about a distinguished but dysfunctional family. Both plays are written for three actors, but Three Days of Rain has six characters, with the actors playing the heirs of a renowned team of architects in Act One and their parents (the men now dead and the mother in a mental institution) thirty-five years earlier. It's this intriguing segue from the present to the parents' youth that has earned the play the tag of "a puzzle in two acts."
The Dazzle's rather intricate staging requirements might present a problem for regional productions, whereas Rain has had numerous productions by companies physically and financially limited to simple sets -- like The Miniature Theater of Chester where a revival helmed by Jonathan Bank has just opened.
Rather than repeat plot details, I'll let Dave Lohrey's review of another regional, small venue production suffice. To read it click here.
If you saw one of the play's major productions -- at the Southcoast Rep in Los Angeles, at Manhattan Theatre Club in New York, or at London's Donmar Warehouse where Greenberg's newest play, Take Me Out, is now running prior to its September opening at the Public Theater -- you may find this Three Days of Rain something of a letdown. As Dave Lohrey, who saw the play three times and is, as I am, a Richard Greenberg fan explained, the remiere at Southcoast Rep convinced him it was a great play. That conviction wobbled a bit after he saw a somewhat flatter production by another company, but was restored during his third viewing of yet another version.
Mr. Bank, whose own Mint Theatre company in New York has justly won several awards for astutely and entertainingly re-staging some forgotten theatrical gems, has directed this revival with fidelity to the script's understated power. If memory serves me right, the two acts have even been tightened so that this Rain clocks in at some fifteen minutes less than the original. But, while the script, except for a too abrupt ending, remains wonderful and full of subtleties in its dialogue and relationships, it calls for three tour-de-force performances to convey its intricacies.
Michael Conners is very satisfying in the pivotal role of the neurotic Walker, and even more so as his father as a young architect who is socially and emotionally crippled by a severe stammer. As Ned is a stutterer who can't afford "to waste words", so Walker is a fast talker given to knowing (or so he thinks) lines like "My parents married because by 1960 they had reached a certain age and they were the last ones left in the room." Conners' transformation from the casual drifter to the stiff, bespectacled Ned is terrific and the echoing comments about being a "flaneur" (French for an aimless idler) add to the poignancy of Ned's tentative reach for romance and passion -- and less than second-banana status in a Frank Lloyd Wright-like partnership.
Jason MacDonald is physically suited to the role of Pip, a successful soap opera actor and the son of Ned's partner Theo. MacDonald has a strong voice that projects better than that of his colleagues. He is fine and quite funny as Pip who, unlike the always pained Walker, is a poster boy for optimism. He amusingly describes his life in the brightest possible light ("I pick up checks in restaurants. I eat chocolate and never gain weight. Life is good!"). It's as his paternal counterpart, Theo, that he falls short of giving nuance to the echoing characteristics of underlying insecurity.
Patricia Marie Kelley, like Connors, is physically quite transformed in her character switch -- from Nan, proper Boston wife and mother and concerned older sister, to Lina, a flamboyant Southern belle who came to New York to be famous though she's now thirty and something of a ship without a rudder. When the true significance of the "April 3d to April 5th: Three days of rain" entry in Ned's recently discovered journal explodes into a marvelously moving love scene, Connors is so good that he almost pulls Ms Kelley along with him. But Kelley's performance remains okay rather than bravura. She is too stiff as the proper Boston wife and mother who has come to New York to join Walker for a belated reading of their father's will and she lacks the vibrant sexiness and aura of mental instability the role demands.
Director Bank has effectively opened up the stage by occasionally using the aisles for entrances and exits. The fourth-wall breaking directness of the background monologues by Walker, Nan and Pip is nicely emphasized by having them delivered from a step at the foot of the stage. The journal with its puzzling and largely misinterpreted entries is burned with appropriate theatricality. Overall, though, the staging is disappointing. The set lacks the sort of details with which the Miniature Theatre has enhanced other productions while sticking to a basic simplicity. As for the costumes, something from Ms. Kelley's own closet would have served as well for the Nan "costume." Lina fares even worse with an unflattering, poorly fitting outfit.
Flaws, notwithstanding, Three Days of Rain is driven by a superb script that will stay with you long after you've left Chester. With The Dazzle still fresh in my mind and the aptly named Take Me Out (as in "take me out to the ball game" and "out of the closet") already considered a must see for the upcoming New York season, the production The Miniature Theatre is a timely reminder that thanks to playwrights like Richard Greenberg the original and inventive American play is a far cry from being an endangered species.
LINKS TO OTHER PLAYS MENTIONED Take Me Out, London review of Greenberg's newest work
Three Days of Rain in Los Angeles
Hurrah At Last
The American Plan
The Double Bass a solo play directed by Jonathan Bank and starring Michael Connors
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