A play consists of a story and its telling. The story needn’t be particularly compelling – “my uncle murdered my father and is sleeping with my mother” is a little Jerry Springer-ish, but it will do in a pinch – if the telling is good. However, there must be a story.
Richard Greenberg has no story. He tells it very well, and 1st Stage does a competent, workmanlike job of putting it up, but in the final analysis it’s like Gertrude Stein’s description of Oakland. There’s no there there.
At bottom, Three Days of Rain is about the wrong assumptions that children make about their parents. This is not, brothers and sisters, a shocking revelation. As the play opens, it is 1995, and Walker (Lucas Beck), in a bare but somehow stylish loft apartment (set by Mark Krikstan), tells us about his father, Ned, a brilliant but laconic architect who died a year ago, and about his mother, who he describes as “Zelda Fitzgerald’s unstable sister.” His father, along with his father’s deceased partner Theo, have designed all the important buildings of the last thirty years, Walker explains, and in particular a famous house in Long Island, which they conceived for Walker’s grandparents. Eventually, Walker’s sister Nan (Belen Pifel) arrives, and we learn some things about Walker which he had neglected to tell us in his opening monologue. They go to a lawyer’s office in order to settle the estate; that encounter – which we do not see – has some unpleasant surprises for Nan and Walker. They return with Theo’s son Pip (Brian Razzino), who is now a television actor. The three of them hash through Ned’s bequests, and then Ned’s career; Walker’s life; Pip’s mom, and so on. When Pip leaves, Walker reveals that he has discovered one of Ned’s old journals, written in the same laconic, affectless style with which Ned apparently presented himself. Walker and Nan draw some conclusions from this journal which might explain the bequests.
In the second Act, we see Ned (Beck), Theo (Razzino) and Ned’s wife Lina (Pifel) as they really were, in 1960. We come to understand some things about them which their children never knew. They reveal the explanation for certain words and actions their children have completely misinterpreted. The second Act, and the play, dissolves in a happy ending, which we know (by dint of watching the first Act) will not hold steady.
I’ve been deliberately vague in this description because much of the play’s pleasure is in seeing the specifics revealed, which Greenberg does with great flair and timing. Greenberg has mastered the art of the plot twist, and his skill, wit and sheer prolificness recall Neil Simon. But, like Simon, Greenberg is sometimes unclear in his intention, and it occasionally looks like he has written a play just because he can. This is one of those times.
Director Dawn McAndrews and 1st Stage do what they can with this script, and what they give us is pleasant and amusing without being particularly inspiring. Beck, who plays two completely different personalities, again reminds us why he is one of the best young actors in the Washington area. In particular, his Ned struggles with his social awkwardness in a dozen subtle and valiant ways, and Beck lets us know that Ned is an immensely good man, whose lifelong struggle is to let the light inside him shine out upon the world.
1st Stage’s pronounced mission is to give developing actors their first professional experience, and in this instance Razzino (who has done work at American Century and Washington Shakespeare) and Pifel (who appeared previously in 1st Stage’s Pig Farm) are emerging from what appear to have been primarily community theater backgrounds. They both do credible jobs here; Pifel, in particular, has mastered Lina’s Southern dialect and passionate nature.
This is a company with an important mission which has done exquisite work in the past on superb plays; and here does fine work on a mediocre play. It does not match the quality of some of their previous productions, but there are worse ways – such as watching the Redskins – to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Three Days of Rain
By Richard Greenberg
Directed by Dawn McAndrews
Produced by 1st Stage
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
THREE DAYS OF RAIN
Michael Toscano . The Post