Writer: Richard Greenberg
Director: David Grindley
Reviewer: Georgina Newman
First produced and performed in 1990, US playwright Richard Greenberg’s The American Plan has now transferred from The Ustinov Studio at the Theatre Royal Bath (its British premiere) to London’s St James Theatre.
Set against the green expanse of the Catskill Mountains in the state of New York circa 1960, where a group of urban vacationers from New York City have taken their leave of the big smoke for the summer months. Chief among them is Lili (Emily Taaffe), a young heiress who is desperate to escape from the controlling presence of her German-Jewish mother Eva (Diana Quick). A not-so-chanced meeting between Lili and the amiable Nick (Luke Allen-Gale) kick-starts a summer romance, until Eva’s interference threatens to dismantle the union.
The overriding interest here is to be found in the ambiguous nature of the five-character cast. Nick, an aspiring architect, maintains an enigmatic aspect throughout as lies upon lies used to mask his past are slowly unravelled as his past catches up with him, while Lili, seemingly an inveterate liar, is as stubborn and headstrong as she is fragile and unstable. Meanwhile Eva, the self-styled “ogre”, leaves it to us to decide whether or not she is just trying to protect her daughter from an increasingly difficult outside world. The degree of psychological and sexual deception proves to be the most compelling aspect of the entire play.
David Grindley’s well-cast production is tightly structured and simply staged to help shift focus on to the narrative. Jonathan Fensom’s stage set – angled wooden decking raised above black tiling, sat in front of a decorated damask curtain to denote the green surroundings – is altered/enhanced only through lighting and clever sound effects, and this serves the production well.
Strengthened by an ensemble cast who all give fine performances, Diana Quick stands out as the wealthy, widowed Eva who struggles to stifle the fantasies of her daughter. Quick’s measured, accented delivery helps boost the nature of Eva as the overbearing matriarch, seemingly plotting and scheming, yet still comic and likeable at the same time. Eva’s companion Olivia, played with dry wit and restraint by Dona Croll, proves to be both a calming influence on Eva and Lili and a wonderful foil for all the other characters, while Lili, played with girlish effervescence by Emily Taaffee, manages to balance energetic quirkiness with a distinctly disturbed side to her nature. Nick, played by Luke Allen-Gale, and Gil, played by Mark Edel-Hunt, both sit well in their rôles as the two young men battling a past encounter.
The prevalence of emotional complexity and the potential for love’s ruin where lies are concerned makes this a play of thematic interest – but the main strength of this production lies in the quality of its cast.