Theatre critic Irene Backalenick covers theatre for national and regional publications. She has a Ph.D.in theatre criticism from City University Graduate Center. Her book "East Side Story--Ten Years with the Jewish Repertory Theatre" (based on her doctoral thesis) won a first-place national book award in history. Other awards in journalism and theatre criticism include a New York Times Publishers Award (received while writing for The New York Times). Her professional organizations include the American Theatre Critics Association, Association for Jewish Theatre, Outer Critics Circle (on the executive board), Drama Desk, Actors Equity Derwent Committee, and the Connecticut Critics Circle e-mail: email@example.com Web : www.nytheaterscene.com
Does a Jewish woman, who lost so much in Nazi Germany, hold on obsessively to the one precious possession left to her—namely, her daughter? Playwright Richard Greenberg explores this question in his excellent play, “The American Plan,” now in revival on Broadway.
This revival, playing at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, is not only a gem of a play, but also a gem of a production. Under David Grindley’s assured command and inspired vision, everything—text, performance, design—comes together to create a memorable experience.
For starters, performances are dazzling. Mercedes Ruehl plays Eva Adler. She is now a wealthy widow with a New York mansion and an estate on a lake in the Catskills, where the story unfolds. Ruehl, who gets that accent just right, never overplayed, inhabits the role completely. She is a complex, commanding character, one who is revealed only layer by layer, and Ruehl has a grip on her every step of the way.
Lily Rabe, as Ruehl’s daughter Lili, is an affecting contrast. While every word from Eva is shrewd, calculated, Lili says whatever comes into her head. She speaks freely, impulsively, like a child who has yet to learn the social games of false pleasantries. In fact, Lili is a child-woman—fey, ethereal, and possibly mentally impaired. (One is reminded of Clara in “The Light in the Piazza,” a role which brought fame to Kelli O’Hara.).At the same time Lili/Lily gives off a radiance, lighting up the stage from the moment the play opens. No wonder the boy who swims into shore (coming from a hotel across the lake) is immediately entranced.
The story goes on with Lili and Nick’s romance, under Eva’s benign (or is it benign?) guidance. It is a poignant tale of surprising, startling twists, a story, eventually, of the road not taken. The plot again parallels “The Light in the Piazza,” with a possessive mother/daughter relationship posed against the fires of young love. Eva, who had lost so much in her life might well be reluctant to give up the one possession which still matters--her daughter. But there is also a mother’s responsibility for a childlike, possibly impaired, daughter.
Ruehl and Rabe’s brilliant work is solidly supported by other cast members—Kieran Campion, Austin Lysy, and Brenda Pressley. And Jonathan Fensom’s simple, elegant rotating set works beautifully, as does Mark McCullough’s haunting lighting design. The wooden dock, the small table for outdoor dining, the lake beyond are always on stage. But the set is seen from constantly changing angles, twisting about as the plot itself twists.
In all, a thoroughly satisfying, and very moving, Broadway offering.
The American Plan
by Richard Greenberg
Directed by David Grindley
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street
Previews begin January 2, 2009
Tue & Sun 7; Wed – Sat 8; Wed, Sat & Sun 2
(Sun 7 perfs thru 1/18 only & Wed Mats after 1/21 only)
Read additional reviews by Irene Backalenick
Richard Greenberg on reworking his breakout play
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