Friday, January 09, 2009

The American Plan

"The American Plan" presented by Manhattan Theatre Club at the Biltmore Theatre, January 8, 2009

Richard Greenberg's latest outing on the Rialto is a revival of his fractured fairy tale of sorts, set in a Catskills resort area in 1960.

The princess, Lili Adler (Lily Rabe) sits on a dock watching the social games going on across the lake at the all-inclusive and exclusive resort. Her callow and flawed prince, Nick Lockridge (Kieran Campion) climbs from his swim across the lake onto the dock to join her, apparently unaware that the property is not part of the hotel.

Lili's widowed mother Eva (Mercedes Ruehl), controls the ample purse strings left from her father's death, and the accusations quickly begin. "She murdered him, my father, you know." Eva enjoys her notoriety among the summer guests who refer to her as the Duchess or Czarina ("One should always have a population one can be superior to!"). Rounding out the household is Olivia (Brenda Pressley), the maid.

Seeing such a damsel in distress, Nick is soon enthralled to save her despite already being engaged to a social climber at the hotel, but has motives of his own. Family fortune lost, mother dead, his father was killed when cleaning his gun. Lili forces Nick's loyalty when she starts a rumor that he has an STD. This ends the engagement, not because the fiance' is disgusted, but because she fears she may have been the one to give it to him.

Eva, after some research of her own, learns some of Nick's secrets and rather than use them to get rid of the boy, she lures him into her own trap masked in goodwill. After Gil Harbison (Austin Lysy), another hotel visitor, wanders onto the property several week later, the plot thickens with some not unexpected Greenberg plot twists over who is telling the truth and when.

The story moves well enough at the lakeside, but Mr. Greenberg has tacked on an epilogue of sorts which takes place ten years later in the Adler's NYC apartment. Eva has died and Nick turns up to see Lili - it was never really clear why he came, nor were the protests heard outside her window given so much attention. Their cause was never stated, presumably Columbia students protesting the Vietnam war, but who knows?

As Lili, Ms. Rabe captures the manic child who can't escape the safe, if cloying, clutches of her domineering mother. Mr Campion, who makes his first entrance in only bathing trunks (thankfully!), masks his character a bit too much, leaving his performance slightly lacking. Ms. Pressley avoids the stereotype of household staff (unlike those in "Dividing The Estate"), in a slightly underwritten role.

It is Ms. Ruehl who commands every moment she is on stage. Though the German accent tended to obscure her lines, the character was always clear. She's the monster who suspects she may be a monster, enough so to tell other that possibility exists, but in the end fulfills the foregone conclusion without admitting the truth.

Jonathan Fensom, whose WWI trenches for last year's "Journey's End" evoked such cool dampness has put a nice spin on this revolving set, a tilting dock on a glassy black floor. He has also repeated the use of a traveling curtain for changes, quite similar to his design for "Faith Healer" from 2006. Mark McCullough's lighting completes the effect nicely.

Director David Grindley, who sat silently in the back of the orchestra section as cell phones and pagers continuously sounded during both acts, could work a bit on the pace. The show opens in two weeks, so time remains to tighten up scenes and get all the lines down cold.

I would hope that Manhattan Theatre Club might invest a bit of the Dentyne money to toss out some of the offending cell phone using ticket-holders, since the company sponsored the pre-show announcements and program stuffers. Shame on the offenders and shame on MTC for their inaction afterwards!

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