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Theater Review (NYC): The American Plan

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There used to be a show called A Couple of White Chicks Sitting Around Talking. This show could be called A Bunch of White People Sitting Around Kvetching. Alternately it could be called The Light in the Piazza in the Dark in the Catskills With No Music.

In The Light on the Piazza, the show over which everyone in New York except my date and I went gaga, a woman takes her twenty-something daughter to Italy in the early 1960's. The mother is doing this because her daughter is not normal, having been kicked in the head by a pony (I’m not kidding), and who knows when the chance might come again for a few months of sun and sightseeing? When the daughter falls in love with a nice Italian boy, the mother decides to let the two of them get married because the guy adores her daughter and is rich as Croesus. The dim daughter will fare better in Italy than in the glare of NYC.

In The American Plan, we again have a mother-daughter duo, only this mother does not want her daughter to marry a-n-y-o-n-e. The daughter is unusual. She is delicate. She also flips out every once in awhile. None of this is explained; we just get to watch. We also get to see a few episodes of the mother destroying a budding romance. Again, we never know why Moms takes a turn to the dark side like some Hitchcock villain crossed with the Wicked Witch. She just does. And because we never find out why anything is happening, we fail to care about these people, so our visit to the theater ends up being kind of pointless, which is pointless.

The fault, dear Brutus, can be laid at the feet of the playwright, Richard Greenberg. There is nothing a cast can do when the script is unable to sit up and take nourishment. All they can do is pitch in like a hospice staff, making the patient as comfortable as it can be while it wraps itself around the sound of its own voice. While Dirty Dancing is going on over on one side of the lake, this sad story stagnates on the other, and, in the author’s words, becomes “an intricately unhappy life lived out in compensatory splendor.”

So the actors soldier along. Mercedes Ruehl plays a woman of a certain age who for some reason acts much older than she appears and burdens herself with an accent and facial gestures lifted directly from Victor Borge. Lily Rabe as her daughter Olivia spends a lot of time going from zero to sixty and then making you wonder how soon it will happen again. Kieran Campion and Austin Lysy are fine in their roles of new paramour and surprise guest. I think I liked Brenda Pressly’s work, but the part of the mother’s companion is gratuitous and without purpose.

The directing does nothing to help. The actors each seem to be in separate bubbles. This could have something to do with the staging itself: the set is so dominated by a revolving dock that when the critical scenes happen they are confined to downstage –- way down stage. The set is beautiful, though, and the illusion of the lakeside atmosphere is convincing. It would have worked — were the play actually set on the dock.

There is only one reference to the “American Plan” in this play. It is the special deal at the hotel on the other side of the lake: sleep here and eat all you can for one flat fee, including games and activities to stop you from ever actually relaxing in the middle of some of the most beautiful country on Earth — a smorgasbord impressive in quantity but not quality. You can be in paradise and the American Plan will make certain you never notice.

The American Plan is an assortment of words, with some memorable phrases and some decent acting, the sum of which fills you up, but doesn’t leave you satisfied.


The American Plan – by Richard Greenberg; directed by David Grindley

WITH: Kieran Campion (Nick Lockridge), Austin Lysy (Gil Harbison), Brenda Pressley (Olivia Shaw), Lily Rabe (Lili Adler) and Mercedes Ruehl (Eva Adler).

Sets and costumes by Jonathan Fensom; lighting by Mark McCullough; sound by Darron L. West and Bray Poor; wig design by Tom Watson. Presented by the Manhattan Theater Club, Lynne Meadow, artistic director; Barry Grove, executive producer. At the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, 261 West 47th Street, Manhattan; (212) 239-6200. Through March 15. Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes.

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