The American Plan

Richard Greenberg
Theatre Royal, Bath
St James Theatre

The coda to this 1990 play from the writer of Three Days of Rain, "Happiness exists but it's for other people", may seem like an unusual place to start a review. However, this short statement encapsulates so much about an intelligent, insightful and always gripping bittersweet comedy.

What initially seems like a simple love story is anything but. Whenever you feel as if you have got the measure of The American Plan, it takes yet another unpredictable turn, which is a primary reason for its appeal.

The other is a series of quirky but rather lovable characters who know the value of high quality lies to spice up an evening or perhaps even a life.

Following the success of Fifty Words and 4000 Miles, the final London transfer from Laurence Boswell's triumphant American season in Theatre Royal Bath's Ustinov Studio is the best of all.

It features this revival's original Broadway director David Grindley in charge of a superb, hand-picked cast that at least matches his American team, which was led by Mercedes Ruehl and Lily Rabe.

Emily Taaffe beautifully plays brittle little rich girl Lili on a long holiday with her mother and the ageing Olivia, cleaner turned valued companion, in the Catskills, an almost legendary Jewish holiday resort for New Yorkers, at some point as the 1950s gave way to a new decade.

Life with two elderly women seems dull until handsome, young Time journalist Nick, played by Luke Allen-Gale, swims into the jetty created with great simplicity by Jonathan Fensom, recreating his original design for the Broadway production.

The youngsters take a shine to each other but, with Richard Greenberg, things are seldom as they seem.

Their burgeoning romance is hamstrung by the efforts of Eva, Diana Quick excelling as the wealthy German-Jewish matriarch who likes to control with a hidden rod of iron, manipulating with marvellous subtlety to achieve her own ends.

One of the many questions thrown up is whether each of the characters, even Dona Croll's seemingly selfless Olivia, is doing anything altruistically or whether all are on the make in some way.

Greenberg, and by extension Lili, is an epic storyteller with a deep love of language and he weaves numerous tales around these complex relationships, which take on even deeper nuances with the arrival of Mark Edel-Hunt as Gil, a seeming Nick clone.

The American Plan is beautiful piece of writing that seems even better second time around, immensely helped by this cast.

It may not appear to have many dramatic moments but, like the other two plays in this mini season, this rather cynical look at the failure of The Great American Dream maintains tension throughout. As a result, a trip to St James Theatre should prove rewarding.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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