The American Plan @ Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, New York

cast list
Kieran Campion, Austin Lysy, Brenda Pressley, Lily Rabe, Mercedes Ruehl

directed by
David Grindley
That the plays of Richard Greenberg, who has yet to reach his mid-fifties, are already revived with such frequency is no small feat.

Despite the fact that Broadway has increasingly become a haven for big-name revivals and musical spectacles, Greenberg has built up a name for himself as a popular and prolific playwright, premiering a number of plays on Broadway – including The Violet Hour, A Naked Girl on the Appian Way, and Tony-winning Take Me Out in the last ten years – a rarity these days for an American playwright.

The American Plan, which premiered 19 years ago at Manhattan Theatre Club’s off-Broadway space at City Center, feels ripe for revival in the wake of recent political events.
In essence, it’s a story about how we construct our identites as individuals. It’s about themes essential to the human experience –families and human sexuality, decadence and madness.

All of this may seem like lofty talk, but as grounded in the characters of Greenberg’s well-plotted drama, the seething tension beneath the characters’ relatively innocent chatter soon threatens to reach a boiling point. The situation seems at first contrived. A beautiful young woman named Lili Adler, played with wide-eyed innocence by skilled actress Lily Rabe, has come to the Catskills in the summer of 1960 as she does every summer with her controlling mother Eva, a German expatriate who believes her daughter to be mentally ill.

As she does every year, Lili meets a handsome young man by the dock, a wood-planked ramp rendered with a sense of serene grandeur by set designer Jonathan Fensom, whose reflective stage floor presents a murky mirror image of the characters’ every move. This time the man of the hour is all-American Nick Lockridge, a supposedly rich dandy who just so happens to also be a damn good swimmer. Just as happiness seems nigh, the fault lines begin to show cracks. First, there are the machinations of the sly, protective Eva. Then comes the arrival of a mysterious stranger named Gil Harbison.

That Greenberg’s play manages to surprise despite its relatively conventional set-up is in part because of director David Grindley’s sensitivity to the subtleties of the characters’ mixed emotions. Though the action is always clear, there are layers of subtext on display to be picked apart by discerning audiences. What seems on the surface to be a typical botched romance takes on a luminescent quality, played out on a series of mottled lakeside nights, the dock rotating to the strains of old jazz songs as each cog in the wheel grinds into place.

The icing on the cake is Mercedes Ruehl’s crowd-pleasing performance as Eva. In a role that could easily descend into camp, Ruehl, who uses a moderately thick German accent throughout, is always grounded in her character’s role as a mother first and foremost. Audiences who are parents will relate the actions she takes in the service of her daughter’s well-being, just as younger audience members will question her intentions. Those who saw the original production will likely find new things to enjoy about the play; those who have never seen it should relish the chance to see such a fine ensemble tackle a modern American play on Broadway.

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