THE AMERICAN PLAN
by Richard Greenberg.
Ustinov Studio Theatre Royal To 13 April 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Post-show Discussion 21 March 7.45pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 01225 448844.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 March.
Transfers to St James Theatre 12 Palace Street SW1E 5JA 2 July-10 August 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm 7 July at 7pm sold out.
TICKETS: 0844 264 2140.
Elusiveness in play and production is a major strength.
When Richard Greenberg wrote this 1990 play, its setting was already history. Around 1960, when the story happens, the Catskills Mountains were still the New Yorker’s Butlins, albeit with entertainers like Danny Kaye or Bob Dylan having learned their craft there. This happy life, all-in food and entertainment for a single payment, the so-called American Plan, is offstage in Greenberg’s play.
Instead, there’s the private estate where Nick goes swimming, learning from young Lili that it belongs to her family. Like many Catskillian holidaymakersthey are Jewish but her mother, stand-offish and nicknamed the ‘Duchess’ or ‘Czarina’, does not recognise the nearby crowds.
Land ownership is about the only thing that comes as reliable information. Half-truths and lies circulate about relationships and affections which are often complex and not easily definable. Lili has an attractive vulnerability matched with a flashing intelligence that easily reaches-out to Homer and Milton, but also a darting unpredictability that could be rooted in the fragility of her position or her mind.
Her mother Eva, for whom tea and cake, with tea-table conversation, are the formal contrast to American Planning, is shrewd and has a care for her daughter that might be over-protective or necessary protection. And their visitor, self-proclaimed architect Nick, swimming innocently in the family’s lake, has his own secrets and lies, by which he deludes everyone, himself included. For a time.
If anyone is what they appear, it’s Eva’s Black companion Olivia, whose taciturnity develops from apparent subservience to dry wit. With the two male WASP visitors joining the ethnically varied resident women a cultural clash is ready to happen.
But it doesn’t ring out. David Grindley’s sustained gossamer production, where Jonathan Fensom’s wrap-around Catskill curtaining opposes the small group with the great outdoors, is appropriately acted with concentrated restraint, polite surfaces suggesting inner disturbance. Luke Allen-Gale’s Nick has uncertainty below his confident manner, while Dona Croll quietly conveys an observing shrewdness and Diana Quick’s Eva combines traditional hospitality with reserved perception. Most piquantly, Emily Taaffe hovers on the border between girlish joy and instability, till an epilogue, where time tells how she’ll develop.
Nick: Luke Allen-Gale.
Lili: Emily Taaffe.
Eva: Diana Quick.
Olivia: Dona Croll.
Gil: Mark Edel-Hunt.
Director: David Grindley.
Designer/Costume: Jonathan Fensom.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Sound: Gregory Clarke.
Dialect coach: Majella Hurley.