Theater Review: The American Plan

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It's strange that the Manhattan Theatre Club would have chosen to once again sign on for "The American Plan." This play by Richard Greenberg was given an intimate off-Broadway production by the company nearly 20 years ago, and it proves no less problematic in this uneven Broadway revival.

Staged by acclaimed British director David Grindley ("Journey's End"), the play, which takes place in the Catskills in summer 1960, uncomfortably mixes personal and social themes in its portrait of an ill-fated romance between an emotionally damaged young woman and the golden boy who promises to rescue her from her domineering mother. Any resemblance to both Henry James' "Washington Square" and Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie" would seem strictly intentional.

It begins with the meeting between Lili (Lily Rabe), who is spending the summer with her German-Jewish widowed mother Eva (Mercedes Ruehl) at their vacation home, and Nick (Kieran Campion), the all-American boy who rises from a nearby lake like some sort of shimmering god.

The aggressively sharp-tongued but obviously troubled Lili quickly takes the initiative in pursuing Nick despite the clear disapproval of her mother, who thinks that he is only interested in Lili's sizable trust fund.

The arrival of another good-looking young man (Austin Lysy), who might have a past connection with Nick, adds another intriguing element.

The title -- which refers both to the overly abundant meal plan at the hotel where Nick is staying and the more insidious marital arrangement that may be in store for Lili -- is indicative of the play's ambitions, which are less than fully realized because of schematic plotting and unconvincing characterizations.

Rabe delivers a compellingly complex turn as the oppressed Lili, while Ruehl -- employing a jarringly uneven accent -- overdoes it as the mother, though it's doubtful than any actress could make the character seem any more credible.

Venue: Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, New York (Through Mar. 15)
Presented by: the Manhattan Theatre Club
Cast: Lily Rabe, Mercedes Ruehl, Kieran Campion, Brenda Pressley, Austin Lysy
Playwright: Richard Greenberg
Director: David Grindley
Set and costume designer: Jonathan Fensom
Lighting designer: Mark McCullough
Sound designers: Darron L. West, Bray Poor