Three Days of Rain by Richard Greenberg. Directed by Eric Peterson.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"...the last ones left in the room."
rehearsal photo: no production shots available
There are plays designed to make the audience sad. The writing winds around your heart as it wends its way through the complexities and difficulties of the lives of its characters. Then there are plays that make you sad in spite of themselves. Three Days of Rain, the current offering at the Oldcastle Theatre Company in Bennington, Vermont, is the latter.
This play, only a decade old, has had an odd history. Written in 1995, it had its New York premiere in 1997, then played on Broadway last year as the ill-fated stage debut of film actress Julia Roberts. It was a sell-out on her name, but received only mediocre reviews. It was assumed by many that the reviews were the results of her inept performance, but now the truth is out: itís a mediocre vehicle for three actors, and even a fine set of performances, such as we have here, canít save the play.
Three actors play six characters. In Act One a brother and sister meet in an unoccupied loft in lower Manhattan en route to the reading of their fatherís will, a year after his death. They are joined, after the reading, by a long-time friend, the son of their fatherís long-dead business partner. In the second act the brother and sister actors play their own parents and the friend takes on the role of his dad. Act Two is set 35 years earlier and is noted as a "happier" time. Sadly, it isnít.
The characters here are very complex and to tell much about them will take away from what is best in this play. Walker is a troubled youth and throughout the first half much is revealed about his difficult psychology; he is the son of a mother gone mad and a father who ignores him. As played by Gil Brady he is the most compelling of all the people we meet in this play. He has charm, wit, a panoply of emotions that play out in his face, his voice, his body language. He is everything that his father, it turns out, is not and when he plays Dad, he is a totally different person. Bradyís work in these two roles is exceptional, rich and voluminous in all the darkness that both characters embody. He even, as the son, uses a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, in paraphrase, to express his belief in his worthlessness: "Not so very young, not so very merry, still going back and forth on the ferry," he says.
Sophie Garder plays Walkerís sister Nan and later their mother Lina. As Nan she is emotionally rigid, controlling and hard to like. As her mother she is flirtatious, southern, mad as a hatter and totally manipulative. The chasm between these two figures is a playerís challenge and Garder does reasonably well in both, but truly shines as the second generation. Her southern belle is a bit harder to enjoy, especially when her accent thins out. She plays the seductions well as she takes on each of the men in her life, but there is something harder for her to do and that is give us back the reality of the first act. She cannot quite bring it off, and that may be more the writing than the acting.
Pip and his father Theo are played by Avery Clark. Unlike Garder he is a better actor in the second act than in the first. Pip is a young actor with a promising television career, a romantic figure for both Nan and Walker. He is charming but somehow phony. Theo is a volatile, angry, dynamic man who betrays himself and everyone around him with his outbursts. Here Clark is brilliant.
Peterson has drawn some remarkable portraits out of this material and forged a few indelible impressions with his direction of this crew. What he hasnít done is given us something to walk away with that enlightens us as to why this play is being done. False clues are given out, false ideas are revealed in Walkerís interpretations of his fatherís motivations. There is no happy ending at the end, as we know in advance the results of actions taken in 1960 by the older generation. At the end, all we have is the end and we already know that the ending for the younger generation is one of frustrations and inevitable disaster. How sad. But no tears.
Three Days of Rain plays through June 24. Oldcastle Theatre Company is located at the Bennington Center for the Arts, Vt. Rte. 9 and Gypsy Lane. Tickets and information are available at (802) 447-0564. They play a Thursday through Sunday schedule with three matinees a week.