Brenda Pressley, Kieran Campion, Mercedes Ruehl and Lily Rabe in The American Plan.
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's not a ton of action, although Richard Greenberg's script is poetically painful and filled with conflict.
The American Plan is a new production from Manhattan Theatre Club written by Greenberg and directed by David Grindley (Journey's End, Pygmalion). Although the play was written in 1990, this marks its first time on a Broadway stage.
It's the early 1960s and almost-21 year old Lili Adler (Lily Rabe) 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 disapproval of her mother to anyone who will listen and loathes spending summers with her 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...subsequent romance follows. And what happens next can only be described as a web of secrecy and potential betrayal from 5 characters who may or may not be clinically insane.
Greenberg's play is twisted, and the characters are emotionally shattered. Their relationships are interesting because of the baggage they carry with them. And really, insanity is a gross exaggeration; they could all use therapy, but perhaps no more so than anyone else today. But with the hush-hush nature of life in the early '60s, a lot of their internal struggle is bottled up while lies cover up truth and a facade of perfection is put on display.
Acting wise, the production is top notch. Mercedes Ruehl is brilliant as a catty, socialite mother with a classic German accent. Lily 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 everyone attempts to achieve the happiness they rightly deserve. In a way this enhances the conflict, in contrast with the volitile 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 (i.e. pyrotechnics, flashy dances, period costumes). In The American Plan, most of the action is in the words, but with a script that occasionally teeters on lyrical, it's not hard to stay engaged.
(The American Plan plays at the Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue. Show times are Tuesday and Sunday at 7pm, Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $56.50-$106.50. For tickets visit telecharge.com. For more information visit manhattantheatreclub.com.)