The American Plan, Ustinov Studio, Bath
Tuesday 26 March 2013
The American Plan is bit like a hyper-literate variant of Henry James's novella Washington Square, but this play by Richard Three Days of Rain Greenberg boasts its own splendidly astringent wit and pervasive sense of secrets and sadness and stymied hope.
It's an early piece, premiered in the States in 1990 and then revived there by British director David Grindley in 2009. He now mounts the UK premiere in a superlatively acted production that it would be criminal not to see transferred to a studio space in London.
The play is set in 1960 in the Catskills near the palatial lakeside home (adjoining a resort hotel) of the couple who are the equivalent of James's tyrannical parent and the heiress foiled in her desperate desire to escape. Greenberg, though, brings distinctive twists to the scenario. Nearly twenty years ago, Diana Quick gave a stunning central performance in Kindertransport as one of the German children who were sent to England to escape the Holocaust. After the War, her character was, heartbreakingly, unable to forgive her wholly well-meaning mother for the years of separation.
Here, in a brilliantly comic/tragic about-turn, the actress plays an oppressive, rich (and now widowed) German-Jewish mother who escaped to the US “on the last boat” but who, according to her precociously mordant and disturbed daughter (excellent Emily Taafe) has been singing “The Nazis haven't found us/But darling they're all around us” to her since she was in the crib.
Quick shows you a woman who fusses over her treats like a hypochondriac over his medication (how can she drink demitasse when the macher spoons are in a basement in Cologne?) and suppresses her experience of radical uncertainty with a pedantic formality of speech and manner. For her daughter, she predicts “An intricately unhappy life, I'm afraid, lived out in compensatory splendour” – or so she tells one of two apparently eligible preppy young men (Luke Allen-Gale and Mark Edel-Hunt) who show up that summer and find themselves manipulated by a mistress of the art.
This sophisticated, ambiguous play keeps you guessing about all its characters (including Donna Croll's superbly dry black companion). It's very end of the Eisenhower era and there's the sense of a world on the cusp of change. The final scene jumps to 1970. Outside there's a Flower Power happening; inside, ageing people who, unlike the mother, have missed the boat.
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