Reviewed by Jerry Kraft
Richard Greenberg's generational drama "Three Days of Rain" is a very well-written play with sharp and witty dialogue, complex and believable characters and a story which develops in a way that deepens our understanding of all these people, even when they are no longer on stage. Noted as a star-vehicle for Julia Roberts on Broadway, this is its first Seattle production. This time the star is superb acting by the entire ensemble and the brilliant direction of Aimee Bruneau. I have not seen a better performance in months, and if you love honest writing and fully crafted acting, humane insight, gripping conflict and authentic emotion, this show is not to be missed.
The intimate space at Seattle Public Theatre is just right for a play that takes place in small rooms, rooms in which people are trying to build and re-build homes. In Act One, Walker, a man who has been missing for a year as he wandered in Europe, returns to an unfurnished apartment on the day his famous architect father's will is to be read. There he meets his sister, Nan, a terse and unloving woman frustrated by her brother's history of irresponsibility, by his self-indulgent "sadness" and by his unresolved anger with his parents. He resents his father because he was uncommunicative and his mother because she was mentally ill. He has inherited some of both traits. Their father became famous at an early age, in partnership with a man named Theo, who died very young, leaving his son, Pip (the hero, of course, in "Great Expectations") to pursue his own ambitions. The boy becomes a television actor, with success far exceeding his talent, something he is acutely aware of. The three have been friends since childhood, growing up together and bound by their personal and family history. They have also carried their interpersonal conflicts through their lives and, we later discover, also the conflicts of their fathers, albeit incorrectly understood.
Walker wants to inherit his parent's home, mostly because he "doesn't live anywhere." Nan doesn't care. Pip doesn't care. Walker finds a journal his father kept and believes it contains the answers to his parent's lives. The first entry, covering three days, says only "Three days of rain." A weather report, as Walker observes of his father's selfish concision. He wants to read everything, study everything, fully understand everything. Nan agrees that he can have the place, but only if he agrees to leave the journal, never to look in it again. Nothing resolves the way any of them expect. In Act Two we will return to the same room, only inhabited by Ned, the deceased, insecure architect, Theo, his driven partner and Theo's tumultuous wife, Lina. We learn what the relationship of talent, desire, ambition and passion really was, and why the journal both completely explains their lives, and, as we recognize along with them, says nothing.
Evan Whitfield is a wonderful mess as Walker, a man whose disheveled life is littered with distraction, pointlessness, self-destructive behavior and an inability to connect with anyone important in his life. Whitfield brings enormous energy and discomfort to the part, a man who doesn't fit in his own skin. As his sister, Nan, Sheila Daniels is spectacular, achieving that immensely difficult task of making a contained and self-censoring character express infinite layers of personality, subtle nuances of personal history and of another life led in another place, of her own conflicted desires and disappointments. Aim_e Bruneau is simply amazing in her ability to tighten these relationships to the tension of a piano string, and keep every beat of their interaction in perfect focus and proportion.
When Pip arrives, Peter Dylan O'Connor immediately convinces us of the depth and longevity of these relationships. His easy comfort with his own limitations, his lack of venality, his connection with these two of friends, pseudo-siblings, is all contained in light banter, then deepened in his conflicts with Walker, not for what he wants but for all he has not wanted. The act leaves us knowing that these three are who they are because of who their parents were. That will be the question act two will answer. The first act of this play was one of those times in the theatre when I was leaning forward, deep inside the scene after about thirty seconds, and never sat back.
In the Second Act the same three actors go back in time to show us Ned, Theo and his wife Lina, and their relationship as it actually existed. These are entirely different people, entirely different characters from the children of the first act, and from the parents those children imagined for themselves. Ned, the famous architect, is a stuttering, insecure, novice who is being mentored by the presumably more talented Theo. In fact, Theo is having a crisis of confidence himself, and has no ideas of his own, no passion beyond his own ambition. Lina is a woman who has nothing but passion, nothing but raw desire to actually be someone, and no clear idea who she'd like that someone to be. Their lives, during three days of rain, will explicate for us their own futures, and the futures of their families.
Evan Whitfield makes Ned a prototypical nerd, but not a stereotypical nerd. He is simply in the path of the tornado that is Peter Dylan O'Connor's Theo, and as that great, transient storm blows through, part of the abandoned detritus is Lina. Ned and Lina will find a brief respite in each other, and Ned will find himself. O'Connor is terrific as Theo, making his restlessness and uncertainty a brilliance that we know, intuitively, has to burn out early. Sheila Daniels becomes an entirely different woman as Lina, fierce and animated, seductive but never easy, smart but lacking a center, needing some kind of confirmation that Ned will only briefly provide.
It seems to me that the play comes a bit unraveled at the end, not quite bringing us to a fully satisfying resolution. One could argue that really knowing our parent's lives is exactly like that, also, and that the lack of resolution is in the fact that the children's lives are not yet fully lived, their pasts never to be fully known. In any event, "Three Days of Rain" is a fine and admirable contribution to the long corpus of domestic dramas seeking to understand family. This production, with the accomplished and artful performances of these three fine actors, and the top-notch sensitivity and intelligence of the director, is a special event indeed.