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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Change Of Plans - The American Plan - Theatre Review

The American Plan - Manhattan Theatre Club at The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (formerly The Biltmore) - Broadway, New York, NY - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Richard Greenberg, Directed by David Grindley
Runs until March 15th 2009 UPDATE: It has been extended until March 22nd.

I caught this revival on a lark when my original plans to see a different show fell through, but while I found the play a little slow moving at times, I was generally pleasantly surprised by my enjoyment level for the third Greenberg play I've seen (I saw Three Days of Rain when Julia Roberts, Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper did it on Broadway (and it's currently in London with James McAvoy) and I've seen Take Me Out). The current revival of The American Plan has been getting a wide range of reviews (love from NYTimes Ben Brantley, a lot less love from Newsday and the New York Post). Yes, it's a little "too talky", yes, it's yet another play about the problems of rich white folks (or those yearning to be there), and yes, there's a bit of filler particularly in the first act, but the MTC has put on a beautifully crisp production with some strong performances from the small cast.

Oscar and Tony winner Mercedes Ruehl heads the cast as Eva, a strong and bold mother (with a German accent that does at times feel almost comically cartoonish) who watches over her delicate and whispy grown daughter Lili (Lily Rabe) while they summer on a crumbly large estate in the Catskills during the 1960's. When a handsome young man Nick (Kieran Campion), swims over from the resort across the lake, flirtations, expectations, and plans for life are abound and plans are made.

(SPOILER ALERT)

That is until Gil (Austin Lysy), another young and handsome man from the resort, wanders over and secrets and lies slowly unravel, expectations are changed and plans for peoples lives are placed under pressure and altered.

(SPOILER ALERT CONTINUED) The play then takes a gay twist which now might feel a little dated (the play was first produced in 1990), and while I sometimes find a lot of plays rely too much on the "gay" twist to shock, the gasps around me in the theatre still proves that it's still an issue (and the mutterings of disgust and annoyance from the lady in front of me still shows that the "gay" issue is still relevant and worth being addressed). The American Plan treats Gil and Nick's former tryst as a turning plot point. The play delicately and nicely addresses the issues that changes the lives of everyone on that estate without making it torrid or ugly. I know I probably enjoyed the play a little more because I was suckered by the new gay plot point, but I truly enjoyed the twists it put into all the characters plans for life and it made the second act much more interesting (if not slightly too obviously structured).

Kieran Campion has a nice charm and suave if mysterious swagger for his mysterious Nick. Lily Rabe (daughter of playwright David Rabe) is sharp as the protected but feisty daughter Lili. Austin Lysy (below with Ruehl) takes his small role (he doesn't even appear until the 2nd act) as Gil and manages to turn a thoughtful and poignant performance full of confidence and idealistic dreams.

Despite the somewhat cartoonish accent, Ruehl confidently holds the stage with a nicely nuanced performance, one of an overbearing mother but Ruehl never lets us forget it's all because of her love for her daughter, and never out of maliciousness. Eva understands the ways of the world and knows every character aspect of each new stranger better than they do, and plots her daughter's life accordingly.

Brenda Pressley plays Eva's loyal black maid/listening post Olivia and seems to be the most underused character, especially considering how full and interesting this woman must be to be so devoted to her employer while skipping her own life, especially in that time and age.

The extremely simple set of a slanted dock on a turntable was clean and clever, with curtains crossing back and forth across the stage while the dock turned to changeover a scene. When we finally returned back to the New York Upper East Side happened in the final scene, a minor change nicely evoked the switch all while keeping the erudite quality of life.

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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