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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre


In his twisty 1990 play The American Plan Richard Greenberg develops his plot artfully as his characters reveal their secrets and gradually show their true colors. The five characters are multilayered, smart, sometimes deceptive, occasionally infuriating, and always fascinating. Manhattan Theatre Club's expert revival, featuring a top-notch cast and sensitive direction by David Grindley, reveals The American Plan to be one of Greenberg's finest plays.

The time is the early 1960s and the place is the Catskills. Lili Adler (Lily Rabe) spends the summer with her overbearing, overprotective mother Eva Adler (Mercedes Ruehl) in a house that sits across the lake from a resort hotel. A handsome young man named Nick Lockridge (Kieran Campion) shows up on Lili's dock, and the two are soon smitten with each other. Lili tells Nick the true story of how her family became wealthy and the tragic fate of her father. But she also has a habit of making up tall tales. Lily hopes Nick has no skeletons in his closet and no unhappy family history. "I want you to have been spared everything," she says.

As it turns out, Nick hasn't been entirely honest either. The perceptive Eva, who uses her maid Olivia (Brenda Pressley) as a spy, figures out some of Nick's secrets. The arrival of his acquaintance Gil Harbison (Austin Lysy) complicates matters even further.

Greenberg's dialogue is rather jokey early on, but once he hooks us with the plot there's no need for the characters to crack wise. Director Grindley makes a smooth transition from the early scenes' light repartee to the dramatic moments that come later. He lets the pace slacken in the final scenes, however.

The cast couldn't be better, though Ruehl and Rabe look so little alike that it's hard to believe they're mother and daughter. Rabe (Steel Magnolias) brings out all of Lili's contradictions, especially the anger she feels toward her prying mother and her dependence on her. Ruehl, who has made a specialty of playing steely women since her breakthrough in the movie Married to the Mob, is a natural choice to play Eva. She makes us understand why Eva is frustrated that she can't control Lili, despite her best efforts. It's also understandable that Lili would want to escape her domineering mother. As Ruehl plays her, however, Eva isn't a monster.

Campion gives a similarly multidimensional performance as golden boy Nick, a Connecticut WASP who has mysteriously landed in the Catskills. Pressley and Lysy have less to work with but are just right in their supporting roles.

With this near-flawless revival, Manhattan Theatre Club is off to a great start in 2009. Let's hope the rest of the company's season is similarly strong.


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