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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THE AMERICAN PLAN
at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

BREAKFAST INCLUDED
By STUART MILLER

  Lily Rabe, Mercedes Ruehl and Brenda Pressley/PH:Carol Rosegg

Truth takes a holiday in Richard Greenberg's The American Plan, a droll but constricted play about mendacity in the Catskills, circa 1960. (Manhattan Theatre Club is giving the play, staged off-Broadway in 1990, its Broadway debut at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.)

Of the five characters, four-the deeply troubled Lili, perpetually looming mother Eva Adler, potential beau Nick, and mysterious new arrival Gil- lie pathologically and manipulate each other with largely shameless vigor the fifth, is the maid, Olivia, who doesn't reveal personal truths, having deemed people unworthy of such valuable treasure.

Greenberg lacks the ferocity, depth and ambition of Tracy Letts in his dysfunctional family masterpiece August: Osage County but his play shimmers with his typical wit. The result is surprisingly fun for a bleak examination of human weakness, or surprisingly bleak for a fun examination of human weakness. That's especially true of the scenes featuring the domineering Eva, a refugee from Nazi Germany who longs for her old life and its demitasse spoons and scorns this world of American heathens. She is not seeking happiness, only clutching desperately to what she has and knows, a misused power over her only child. As Eva, Mercedes Ruehl doesn't chew the scenery, she nibbles it with remarkable comic precision, dryly sentencing her daughter to " an intricately unhappy life, I'm afraid, lived out in compensatory splendor," in a way that elicits laughs and gasps simultaneously.

Brenda Pressley as Olivia and Austin Lysy as Gil also bring admirable restraint to their roles - Kieran Campion (Nick) and especially Lily Rabe (Lili) take time finding their footing, often trying too hard in the early scenes. David Grindley's direction and Jonathan Fensom's simple but spectacular set-a revolving dock and pictures of the Catskills that shift to match the dock's perspective-are like the characters, beguiling and seductive. This creates a world that offers beauty that usually goes unappreciated, though Eva, who loathes the limitless horizon of the sea, finds comfort in feeling trapped between the definitive borders of the mountains.

 


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