Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, June 2007
Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain is a finely tuned character study of two families – the Janeways: Edmund “Ned,” his wife Lina and their children Nan and Walker; and the Wexlers: Theo, Margaret, and their son Philip “Pip.” The first group we meet are the children, in 1995 when they are in their 30’s. During the first act Nan, Walker, and Pip meet to hear Ned’s will read. Theo had died when Pip was three. Their mothers are not present – Lina is in an insane asylum and Margaret, who we never meet, is traveling. During the second act the same three actors play Lina, Ned, and Theo thirty-five years earlier, in April of 1960, before any of them were married, during the titular three days of rain that changed their lives.
Greenberg is best known for his Tony-winning baseball play Take Me Out, recently produced at Capital Rep in Albany complete with its notoriously naked locker-room scenes. Three Days of Rain was originally commissioned and produced in 1997 by the South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, California, where many of Greenberg’s plays have had their world premieres. The play opened off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club later that year. Last year it received a much-hyped but ultimately disappointing Broadway production with Julia Roberts as Nan/Lina.
Three Days of Rain, which was nominated for but did not win the Pulitzer Prize in drama, does not have an immediate satisfying pay-off at the end, which made it puzzling to the largely elderly matinee audience with whom I attended. This is a play that you need to think over and talk about with your theatre companion (I, alas, attended alone) because it does not reveal itself to you whole in the two hours and 15 minutes it takes to perform. Children never really know their parents, and by introducing us first to Ned, Lina, and Theo through their children’s eyes, the reality of their earlier lives as revealed in the second act is both fascinating and confounding.
Eric Peterson, Oldcastle’s Producing Artistic Director, has directed a strong cast with minute detail. Sophia Garder, a local actress whose work I have enjoyed since her college years, is heart-breaking in the very different roles of the repressed, yuppie Nan and her out-of-control southern belle mother, Lina. Nan is just as desperately in control as her mother is out of it, and as a result neither can be happy.
Gil Brady also presents two very different characters in the unstable and loquacious Walker and his stuttering, awkward father, Ned. Having the same actors play parents and children brings home the fact that, while there may be strong physical resemblances from generation to generation, ultimately parents and children are as separate and different as any two random people on this planet. Yes, Nan takes after her father and Walker takes after his mother in terms of their personality types, which means that they interact in ways similar to how they tell us they remember their parents relating before the fateful day in 1972, when Walker was eight and Nan was ten, when Lina went over the edge.
Avery Clark’s renditions of Pip and Theo are more similar. Pip tells us that he looks just like his father, but he evidently takes after his unseen mother because Pip is completely grounded and happy in his own skin, while Theo was never comfortable in his.
I felt as Brady and Clark were both a little young for their roles. They felt more 20-something than 30-something, and their boyish enthusiasm needed to be tempered with a little more life experience. Also, while Pip is supposed to be the soap opera hunk (he plays a character named Butte on an unnamed daytime drama) Brady was the actor with the more Butte-like features.
This is a play about what constitutes genius and what constitutes madness. It is a play about how the past influences the present and ultimately the future even when we don’t know it or understand it. By the end of the second act we see clearly how wrong the children are about their parents, and how strongly their lives have been influenced by events and people about whom they know nothing.
There is quite a bit of humor in this play, although you never would have known it from the reaction of the audience with whom I attended. It is times like that that I wish I was less of a stone-face and more of a laugh-out-loud kind of theatre-goer, because the actors certainly could have used the encouragement that a few hearty laughs would have given them.
Kenneth Mooney has designed a drably colored but interesting set. The play is set both inside and outside of a downtown Manhattan loft building. The set is quite barren in the first act, since Walker has essentially been squatting in the long-empty space, and considerably livelier in the second act when we see Ned and Theo utilize the space as their home and office. There are interesting angles and authentic New York architectural details that make the set intriguing, although I was annoyed that people were able to get from the loft, which is obviously not on the first floor, to the sidewalk so very quickly. In real life there would have been fire doors and stairs to negotiate or a long wait for a creaky industrial elevator, either of which would have required the appropriate sound effects and a proper amount of “traveling time.”
Mooney has created “real rain” or at least real water falling in the appropriate fashion from the flyspace for the last scenes. It is interesting how simultaneously soothing and annoying the sound of constantly falling water can be. The occupants of the front row were not issued sheets of plastic as they were at the Mac-Haydn for the rain effect at the end of 110 in the Shade and no one seemed to recoil at being splashed, but I did notice that there will be some mildewed carpeting to deal with immediately below the apron in the Bennington Center for the Arts after this show finishes its three week run.
While this is a good production I am not sure that it is a great one, however it will certainly do very nicely until someone does a better one regionally. Go prepared to listen and to think. We are too used to having plots tied up in a nice neat package for us at the final curtain. There is nothing wrong with a show that leaves you with some pieces to put into place for yourself in the hours and days after you leave the theatre.
Three Days of Rain produced by the Oldcastle Theatre Company, runs through June 24 at the Bennington Center for the Arts at the intersection of VT Rt. 9 and Gypsy Lane. The show runs two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission. This show is puzzling enough for grown-ups so I wouldn’t bring children, or even teens. Teens, especially those who still know everything, will not understand the nuances between the two generations. Call the Oldcastle box office at 802-447-0564 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2007