Monday, January 12, 2009
The American Plan - just one more course please
Is Eva Adler (Mercedes Ruehl) a shrewd realist protecting her mentally ill daughter or is that endearing tough talk just a front for something a little darker? How much protection does daughter Lili (Lily Rabe) really need, anyway, and what's up with Nick Lockridge (Kieran Campion) that suddenly appearing fiance? Who knows? This Manhattan Theater Club revival of playwright Richard Greenberg's 1990 work The American Plan, now in previews at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, does force you to face at least one of life's really tough questions - if the eat big or go home Catskills of the 1950s and 60s were so dreadful, why did so many people vacation there?
The show takes a few cheap shots at an unnamed Catskill resort hotel from across the lake, but the focus here is on Eva and Lili, not the meal plan. Eva's a well-to-do widow with a middle-European accent who's survived a tough life. She's not afraid to say what she means, make a deal with the devil or even break one - all for the sake of Lili. Lili desperately wants to declare independence from Eva and get a life of her own. Ms Ruehl captures the comedic side of Eva's ruthless real politik, but does not quite plumb the character's full depth. Ms Rabe successfully creates uncertainty about the severity of Lili's condition, but comic timing is sacrificed to her quest for consistent oddity and some truly funny lines never reach their full potential. Mr. Campion gets extra credit for a well-played Nick. He lets us know something is a little off in his whirlwind romance of Lili, but not precisely what. Jonathon Fensom's rotating dock set gets the job done, with a simplicity that serves the show well.
As it stands, The American Plan is worth seeing. Mom and daughter have some funny lines, Ms Ruehl makes her accent work, the plot twists and the result is an entertaining evening that raises some interesting questions of character and conscience, but doesn't completely engage the audience. There is some chance that Ms Ruehl and Ms Rabe will find a way to peel one more layer off the onion before previews end, this show is almost a truly memorable evening.