New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

"The American Plan"
Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Broadway)

Richard Greenberg’s “The American Plan,” now enjoying a revival on Broadway, is a gem of a play. And, equally to the point, a gem of a production.  Under David Grindley’s assured command and inspired vision, everything—text, performance, design—comes together to create a memorable Broadway experience.

For starters, performances are dazzling. Mercedes Ruehl plays Eva Adler, a German-Jewish woman who had managed, with her husband, to escape the Holocaust. She is now a wealthy widow with a New York mansion and an estate on a Catskill lake, 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 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 twists.

In all, a thoroughly satisfying, and very moving, Broadway offering.

-- Irene Backalenick
Jan. 25, 2009

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