BOTTOM LINE: You never know who you can trust in this character-driven tale of love, deceit, and getting what you want in life. There isn’t a ton of action, though Richard Greenberg’s script is poetically painful and filled with conflict.
The American Plan is a new production from Manhattan Theatre Club directed by David Grindley (Journey’s End, Pygmalion). It was written by Greenberg in 1990, but this is its first time on a Broadway stage.
The play begins in the early ’60s. Lili Adler (Lily Rabe) is about to turn 21 and is spending the summer with her uber-wealthy mother, Eva (Mercedes Ruehl), at their summer retreat in the Catskills, their annual respite from life in New York City. But Lili detests the ostentatious life her mother lives and would rather be alone enjoying the escapism of her daydreams. She vocalizes her disapproval of her mother to anyone who will listen and loathes spending summers with mom and their hired hand, Olivia (Brenda Pressley). One day a hunk from across the lake swims up to their property and hits it off with Lili. Romance ensues. What happens next can only be described as a web of secrecy and potential betrayal from five characters who may or may not be clinically insane.
The American Plan is twisted, the characters emotionally shattered. Their relationships are interesting because of the baggage they carry with them. Insanity is a gross exaggeration — they could all use therapy, but perhaps no more than any other person these days. But with the hush-hush nature of life in the early ’60s, much of their internal struggle is bottled up while lies cover up truth and a facade of perfection is put on display.
As far as the acting goes, the production is top-notch. Ruehl is brilliant as a catty socialite with a classic German accent, Rabe brings the innocence and optimism out of a girl whose life has already seen a lot of pain, and Kieran Campion, as Nick, the man Lili falls in love with, has the greatest abs seen on a New York stage in quite some time. Oh yeah, and his performance unearths the staunch drive of a man who has to achieve what society says he should even if his heart yearns for something else.
Both the production and script are painted with a pretty brush, as each character attempts to achieve the happiness he or she rightly deserves. In a way this enhances the conflict, in contrast with the volatile associations always under the surface. But it also creates a production void of much action, something to be aware of if you’re the kind of theatre patron who likes a lot of stuff to look at (e.g. pyrotechnics, flashy dances, period costumes). In The American Plan most of the action is in the words, but since its script occasionally teeters on lyrical, it’s not hard to stay engaged.
The American Plan plays at the Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St., between Broadway and 8th Ave. Showtimes are Tue and Sun 7 PM, Wed-Sat 8 PM, and Wed, Sat, and Sun 2 PM. Tickets are $56.50-$106.50. For tickets visit telecharge.com, for more information on the play visit manhattantheatreclub.com, and for more New York theatre reviews visit theatreiseasy.com.