in wet nappies
(March 4, 1999 by Benedict Nightingale)
Lucy Davies, the producer of the season that the Donmar is calling American Imports, says in the programme that she was “extremely inspired and excited” by the “huge and vibrant culture of seriously talented playwrights” she found on the other side of the water. Well, her third and final choice of American play justifies her claims better than her earlier two and, with Colin Firth, Elizabeth McGovern and David Morrissey each doubling the roles of parent and child, it has certainly attracted a thoroughly appealing cast.
But she should still turn down those high-voltage verbs and adjectives a few notches. Richard Greenberg’s Three Days of Rain is enjoyable but not too original. You can rely on the characters, Manhattanites all, to find ways of dressing up potentially flat lines in ways that are wryly amusing. often self-consciously literary but seldom psychologically revealing: “He looks at me and sees something from Anaïs Nin, just because I’, gloomy”, that sort of thing.
More to the point, the play involves that favourite American theme: the grown-up infant’s obsession with his or her parents—and, particularly, the son’s attempts to come to terms with a damaging father. When I was reviewing in New York in the 1980s, I christened such stuff “diaper drama”, which irked my readers and was, I suppose, a patronising way to describe a genre that stretched from O’Neill through Miller’s Death of a Salesman to Sam Shepard.
But Greenberg’s play—which begins with Firth’s edgy, embittered Walker Janeway returning from a year in hiding just too late for the funeral of the architect father he remembers as a big, silent blank—is hardly on that exalted level. I liked its wit and its sensitivity, but I fear that it will pretty soon join a dozen other diaper dramas in my private oubliette.
Act I presents us with the 1995 generation. Firth’s Walker exudes tart self-pity. Morrissey overdoes the preening vanity of Pip, the actor son of Walker’s father’s partner and the man to whom Janeway Sr has controversially bequethed his most famous building, and so has trouble convincing us of the modesty and decency that eventually characterise him. McGovern is effectie enough as Walker’s sister, a role that requires her to do little more than play the reconciler. They all make more of Act II, which takes us back to 1960, subverts Walker’s theories about his father’s inadequacies, and is, I suppose, a salutary reminder to kids not to categorise the old folk too glibly.
I shall reveal little more, for Greenberg has some nice twists in the offing. But Firth is touchingly truthful as an earnest stutterer with little self-belief and a terror of children, and McGovern unpretentiously excellent as a woman whose instability will, we know, destroy her.
is an actress who does more with her smile than most others with a
of gestures. On opening night, those curled lips expressed
sensuality, mischief, diffidence, bewilderment. pain—in short, did
but convince me that Rain really was an inspiring, vibrant play.
It’s not just the insistence on inclement weather (not to mention a crucial figure’s emotional repression) that gives American dramatist Richard Greenberg’s play a particular kick in London. Greenberg upends the parent-child agon, turning an age-old dramatic template into a generational detective story, just as he skillfully deflects perceptions of sentimentality by having a budding architect quickly scotch such tendencies ("that's sentimental," the character snaps) in his newly smitten bride-to-be. The result bodes well for a prolonged life for the last of three brief runs in the Donmar Warehouse's American Imports season, even if the male actors' accents are so (sometimes) comically wide of the mark that one has to separate out their shrewd character investigation from some mighty strange sounds. English audiences, it has to be said, are unlikely to care, given the local popularity of both Colin Firth, playing a garrulous gay drifter and then his lovesick stammerer of a father, and David Morrissey (now on screen in "Hilary and Jackie") as—at various times—a rival, friend and colleague to the two utterly contrasting generations of father and son offered up by Firth.
By now, the play's conceit is well-known. A semi-estranged brother and sister come together in act one following a family death only to draw conclusions about their parents (dad, in particular) that are movingly disproved once the action reverses 35 years to 1960 New York in the second act. Unlikely to pass unremarked in England is the pivot of the play around a central irony: the assumption that the journal entry from which the play takes its title, "three days of rain," was a sign of parental evasion, whereas in truth it was a shorthand for a rare moment of sun between two young lovers before their lives went sour. The birth of a father's love, in other words, only fuels the hatred of a son who mistakes a discovery of bliss for "a fucking weather report." Greenberg has always located the blight beneath his characters' well-spoken badinage, and so he does again here, cannily folding a play about emotional bequest into an intricate tale that depends for one of its key plot points on a literal bequest. But "Three Days of Rain" is never ultimately as poignant as it wants to be, for all the sparkle and savvy of a writer who—line for line—remains one of America's sharpest.
While the second act fizzes with reverberant emotions that make one want to replay the first half alongside it, there's a patness about Greenberg's resolution, however suspenseful the author's juxtaposition of then-vs.-now. It's as if he were working from some invisible diagram rather than animating from within his two triangular scenarios. The inconclusive affect doesn't in anyway diminish one's appreciation of Greenberg's linguistic finesse, but it may account for the play's failure so far to catch commercial fire.
Robin Lefevre's London version could be a wholly different matter, simply because of some genuine marquee names who may (for exactly that reason) be difficult to contract for a longer run. A household name in Britain since the BBC "Pride and Prejudice," Firth is an always game occupant of a pair of roles that he only really suits in act two, once he drops Walker's edgy, incessant bark to monitor the ellipses of the same man's bespectacled architect father.
Similarly, Morrissey brings to his (smaller) roles impressive energy and drive, even if his accent and posture are at vaguely loutish odds with (in act one, anyway) a supposed thespian pretty boy who makes light of his life as a much-worshiped mediocrity.
real discovery is Elizabeth McGovern as Walker's aggrieved sister, Nan,
and her incipiently alcoholic mother, Lina, who has the dubious
(or so her children see it) of being a Zelda Fitzgerald wannabe. It's
amusing to hear McGovern, now an American expatriate in London, put an
English spin on words like "recovery," just as it's astonishing to
the continued growth of a onetime Oscar nominee who has gained
in confidence and charm since her days as a Hollywood soubrette. It's
blight to be saved and damned at once, but it's part of McGovern's
resurrection that her work as "a very intriguing alcoholic" has made
a very intriguing actress.
Young American proves there’s drama outside the trailer park
The other week, I viciously attacked the first two plays in the Donmar Warehouse's' American Imports season, and suggested that when it comes to new dramatic writing, the Brits are now knocking the Americans into a cocked hat.
I suspected then that I was offering a hostage to fortune and so it proves with the third and final play, Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain.
It is a terrific piece—civilised witty, touching and cunningly structured. It is also unashamedly middle class, and one realises with a start just how rare adult, middle-class values are in new plays by young dramatists these days. Greenberg belongs to the urbane tradition of Albee, Stoppard and Hampton rather than the "trailer park trash" school, and if he can maintain work of this standard, his future looks exceptionally bright.
The play is driven by a strong plot involving an inheritance, and the action starts in New York in 1995, where Walker is meeting his sister Nan. They are, the thirty-something, children of a hugely rich architect who died the previous year, and sensible, down-to-earth Nan (Elizabeth McGovern) is furious with her wired, neurotic brother (Colin Firth) because he went AWOL for months and didn't if even attend the funeral.
Walker has always resented his father Ned's refusal to talk, to open up emotionally, and this resentment increases when he discovers his father's journal of 35 in years earlier, only to find that it is consists of little more than a terse recitation of facts. We also learn that Nan and Walker's mother, Lina, is mentally unstable, and meet Pip (David Morrissey), a handsome actor who is the son of Ned's former partner, Theo. The dramatic crisis in act one comes when it is discovered that instead of bequeathing his most famous work, a beautiful "prism-like" house, to his children, Ned has actually left it to Pip. Why?
In the second half we go back 35 years, to 1960, when Ned and Theo were first setting up as architects and working on the house that was to establish their fame and fortune. With a marvellously effective use of doubling, the same actors are cast as the parents of the characters they have just played in the first half. The device doesn't just offer a chance for a smashing cast to show off their versatility, it also sharply points up the tyrannies—and occasional mercies—of genetic inheritance.
The play is full of surprises, for Greenberg's theme (it is one he shares with Stoppard) is just how easy it is for the present to misinterpret the past. Ned, for instance, couldn't be more wrong about his s father's failure in emotion, as is shown by the lovely depiction of blossoming love between Ned and Lina during three days of torrential New York rain.
But the play's time sequence is shatteringly sad. The drama ends in a glow of romance and hope. But that was in 1960. Having already followed the faultlines to1995, we are keenly aware of the faultlines I in the relationships, and know just how quickly happiness soured.
Firth is superb as both the screwed-up, bullying Walker, brilliantly suggesting the egomania of unhappiness, and as Walker's humble, painfully stammering father, a performance that goes straight to the viewer's heart. McGovern is especially fine as Lina, tremblingly caught between passion and panic, while as Pip, Morrissey triumphantly proves that it is possible to make niceness dramatically interesting.
a marvellously rewarding play, full of warm humour and sharp wit as
as sadness, and Robin Lefevre's attentive, beautifully acted production
does it proud.
What did you do in the past, daddy?
Keeping a diary, as Gwendolen remarks in The Importance of Being Earnest, is essential. “One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” Most people’s diary entries, however, degenerate to weather reports. When Walker (Colin Firth) discovers his late father’s secret journal, he and his sister Nan (Elizabeth McGovern) are disappointed to see that the very first entry is shockingly bland: “Three days of rain”.
For the siblings, this comes as something of an end, but for the playwright Richard Greenberg it is a cunningly constructed beginning. This, the last in the Donmar’s American season, is an often fascinating study of the legacy of two architects whose family home is a world-renowned landmark and the centre of an emotional whirlpool for their children.
The sibling rivalries of the well-layered characters are deftly established as Nan meets up with the neurotic Walker for the reading of the will. She’s furious with him for having disappeared for months, leaving her to deal with their father’s death and their helplessly airy mother, wittily described as “Zelda Fitzgerald’s less sane sister”. Complicating matters is Pip (David Morrissey), son of Ned’s partner Theo and former lover of the now-married Nan. Walker’s realisation that he has been partially disinherited triggers old jealousies. Then, at the climax of the first act, he dramatically puts the lid on the past. “God damn you,” cries Nan, “Now we’ll never know anything.”
We, however, quickly learn much more as the second act cuts back to the time of the diary to reveal the unwritten truth. The same actors now play their parents, filling the stage with correspondences through the years. Pinter reversed the action in Betrayal, and Kaufman & Hart played a similar game in 1934 in Merrily We Roll Along, but Greenberg’s twist cleverly explores the idea of the sins of the father.
The director, Robin Lefevre, coaxes witty, beautifully modulated performances from his cast, all of whom resist the temptation to signal too heavily what we know of their older selves. The rivalry between the men is captivatingly done and the climactic seduction scene is exquisitely played by a wonderfully gauche, stammering Firth—all spectacles and hunched shoulders—and febrile, skittish McGovern—a headstrong cross between a young Katherine Hepburn and early Blanche Dubois—yet even they cannot stave off the curiously flat denouement.
gap between what we thought we knew and the literal truth widens
in the manner of a well-crafted thriller, but the play falls victim to
its neatness. Greenberg displays enviable talent, not least for piquant
dialogue, but ultimately you’re left feeling that the play is more
than emotionally resonant.
The time, the place, the man
Decades after JB Priestley used the theatre to play poignant and significant games with time, Richard Greenberg creates most arresting variations on Priestley’s original theme. The third act of Priestley’s Time and the Conways achieved unusual pathos, since linear chronology had been defied and the audience had already seen what would happen to the characters’ high hopes. But Greenberg’s Three Days of Rain simply begins in New York, 1995, and then retreats 30 years. The challenging idea is to demonstrate how biology may give a helping hand to destiny, how the sins or rather our parents’ traits and decisions may play shaping parts in our lives.
The first act, with its flippant wit, has an eye to the past. Colin Firth’s Walker, son of the mildly famous but rich architect, Ned, returns out of the blue having missed his father’s funeral, to face the recriminating music that time plays in the wake of an important death. Since Walker’s married sister, Nan, meets him in a house that Ned built with his partner, Theo, and Theo’s son, Pip, is also on hand, the plays looks all too neatly set up for pained reminiscing.
Robin LeFevre’s cannily understated production, which I saw at a preview, tantalises with its air of tight-fisted tensions. The concealed truth is about to be forced into the open. When the play concertinas back to 1960s and the two men play their fathers, with Elizabeth McGovern’s Nan completing the emotional triangle as her own mother, you come to understand how the sexual and emotional patterns of the next generation have been set.
force of Colin Firth’s remarkable acting transcends the mere erotic
that on television made him the fantasy play-thing of so many women. He
portrays two men who loiter on the fringes of life, brooding over how
find the key to happiness. Firth’s valiantly worn dejection always
true. Dowdily dressed in despondency, an almost thread-bare charm and a
long, grey-green pull-over as Walker, and then in the role of his
stammering and introverted father, the less brilliant architect, Firth
illuminates both men’s diffidence and pain. Miss McGovern wears a
sexiness, but remains enigmatically buttoned up. David Morriessey’s Pip
most powerfully shows how we may speak the most painful home truths in
the mildest tones.
and a paternal triangle
There is an unprecedented spate of new British and Irish plays on Broadway at the moment. We send them The Blue Room, The Weir, Closer, Dame Judi Dench and Sir David Hare. And what do we get in return? Well, Neil Simon is still a going concern. And the Donmar is presenting an American season of new plays. Three Days of Rain introduces a very clever if rather dry and schematic young dramatist called Richard Greenberg. And we do him proud.
Colin Firth, Elizabeth McGovern and David Morrissey add flesh and passion to two overlapping triangular love stories in New York. First, 1995: a brother and sister of a lately dead architect pick over what happened, the legacy, the house that must be lived in. The son of the architect’s partner, a TV actor who eats chocolate and doesn’t put on weight, reveals his affair with the architect’s daughter.
Cut backwards, after the interval, to 1960. The same three actors play the two architects and the girl who left one for the other in three days of rain: wet, wet, wet. Lucidity of writing and the pointed, precise playing in Robin Lefevre’s smart production on a pristine white setting brings us all together. The emotional switch is beautifully handled. Miss McGovern is stunning as a calculating Southern belle whose weakness for drink parallels that of her daughter, while Firth heads backwards from nerdy inheritor to stuttering, awakening artist of the drawing board. And the wonderful Morrissey redefines his Nineties nerve as Sixties cool, finally left out in the rain, like the cake in the pop song.
is heartening to hear good writing emerging from off-Broadway again. I
just wonder though, if these triangular, interconnecting designs for
will carry too parochial, or dare one say pointless, a punch.
of the fathers
It is the acting—brilliant, hard and absolutely true—rather than the writing, that lifts Richard Greenburg’s [sic] Three Days Of Rain above the ordinary. Of course, Elizabeth McGovern, Colin Firth, and David Morressey get two opportunities to show their mettle: first as the children, then, in the play’s second half, as their parents, in a drama that begins in 1995 then time-warps backwards to 1960. You see quite clearly how the sins—or at least the genes—of the fathers and mothers are visited on their offspring.
When Walker’s rich and successful architect father died a year ago, Walker did a disappearing act. He didn’t even show up for the funeral. But now he’s back in New York, holed up in the studio where his father and his former partner Theo worked on the commission that made them famous shortly before Theo’s early death. Here he finds a cryptic journal, kept by his father over 30 years previously, which proves that other people’s diaries are very seldom interesting let alone sensational.
Famously a man of very few words, Dad’s most eloquent entry reads: “Three days of rain.” Only after Walker has met up with his exasperated married sister Nan (McGovern) and Theo’s son Pip (Morrissey), an easygoing actor in daytime soaps, for a reading of the will, are secrets exposed and surprises sprung. Then the play flips back 35 years and the meaning of the journal’s entries begin to make sense.
It’s a neat device, which plays heavily and to good effect on the fact that the audience always knows much more than the characters ever can about themselves, but, like a lot of the dialogue, it is almost too pat and too clever.
Any play in which somebody—Walker and Nan’s mad, alcoholic mother, Lina, actually—can be described as “Zelda Fitzgerald’s less stable sister” gets top marks in the wit department, and Greenburg has plenty more where that came from. But the emotional lives of these people is much less successfully defined by the writer—the second generation seem merely to be richer, thinner, less talented, more neurotic versions of their parents.
is left up to Robin Lefevre’s beautiful nuanced production and the
to paint in the detail and the emotional texture of parents who will
be skeletons in their own children’s wardrobe. The threesome deliver
performances. What you remember are not the smart sassy lines but
Walker, shivering like a traumatised child in his hunky grown-up game,
McGovern like a gaudily painted butterfly staving off his grim
future with a desperate gaiety, and Morrissey’s Pip finding contentment
and happiness in an acceptance of his second-rateness.
rain, don’t go away
Richard Greenberg’s play Three Days of Rain—the third and final play in the Donmar’s American Import season—was produced at the Manhattan Theater Club in 1998, but this is a writer who should surely have work presented in the West End or on Broadway in the near future.
It is New York 1995, and Walker has returned to the city, having gone AWOL after the death of Ned, his father. Sister Nan is used to such behavior, but she is finding it increasingly difficult to cope with, as is childhood friend Pip. Their fathers, both architects, were originally partners, but Pip’s dad Theo died at a relatively young age, while Nan and Walker’s went on to become famous. All three meet up for the reading of Ned’s will. Later, in the moving second half, we are transported bacl tp 1960 to see what truly happened in Ned and Theo’s lives.
This is an excellent compelling piece of writing, boosted by some excellent and witty dialogue. In addition to Robin Lefevre’s subtle staging and Tom Piper’s design (a flat, once barren, suddenly has life inside it), the acting is of a very high standard as the three performers take on their double roles. Colin Firth is convincing both as Walker, wanting to be sane and to come to terms with the past, and then Ned, the stuttering and shy father of years ago.
Morrissey, as Pip, excels at being the slick actor in a good mood, and
in his portrayal of Theo, the idea-starved architect. Elizabeth
makes less of a mark in the role of Nan, but is allowed to relax and
her versatility later, playing the woman Ned desperately tries not to
Theo’s partner Lina.
‘Three Days of Rain’ is the unrevealing entry covering three momentous days in the diary of Ned, a reticent, world-famous architect. At the beginning of Richard Greenberg’s engaging, elegant play, Ned’s children Walker and Nan, and his partner Theo’s child Pip, gather after his death to hear what their financial legacy will be. But with such an inarticulate father, and a mother who could give Zelda Fitzgerald a good run for her money, it is the emotional legacy that haunts them. Like the house that made Theo and Ned famous, the play, the third in the Donmar’s American Imports season, is a prism which constantly presents new angles through which the audience can examine its characters, both the children in the first half, and the parents in the second as it winds back from 1995 to 1960, to those three days of rain. Then we in the audience begin to understand what the children never know.
Lefevre’s production is exemplary, with three smashing performances
Colin Firth, Elizabeth McGovern and David Morrissey seizing the
to excel in both generations. In the first half, the children gather in
the studio where the house was conceived. Firth as Walker is hunched
misery; far more articulate than his father, he has inherited his love
of architecture but not his talent and even the son’s unexplained
is a drain on those who know him. The nattily dressed Pip (David
has happily settled for being a second-rate actor in a soap, his
contentment creating a stark contrast with Walker’s instability.
comes into her own in the second half as Lina, the witty, neurotic
Southern lover of both partners. Tom Piper’s open plan staircase
has served both this play and ‘Morphic Resonance’ and there are
in the affluent, well-educated, ironic people portrayed, revealing
of American drama that are rarely seen over here.
Somehow my heart always sinks a little when a play opens with a character giving us a biographical rundown of the family history. It’s as if the playwright, mistrustful of the audience, feels compelled to provide guidelines.
Happily, in Richard Greenberg’s Three Days of Rain, the final play in the Donmar’s short American Imports season, there is a reason for the preamble. This early account delivered by Walker, the disturbed offspring of an acclaimed architect, is flecked with his own subjective inaccuracies. When it comes to families, there ain’t no such thing as absolute truth.
Walker has returned to New York to reclaim his inheritance—the universally praised house designed by his famous father who has recently died. He is full of bile and bitterness about his mother, whom he likens to “Zelda Fitzgerald’s unstable sister,” and the reticent Great Man. “The thing is with people who never talk,” comments Walker acidly, “you always suppose they’re harbouring some enormous secret. But, just possibly, the secret is, they have absolutely nothing to say.”
Greenberg, like the two other writers in this series, likes to make sure we know he can turn a sharp-shooting line, and puts plenty in the mouth of Walker. But despite his sardonic wit, Walker remains unreliable and self-obsessed.
Three Days of Rain thrives on dysfunctionalism—as a child of eight, poor old Walker saw his flakily unstable mother try to commit suicide and has “been in pain” and an absolute pain ever since.
Colin Firth gives Walker a raddled, clinging appeal as he attempts to glean affection from Elizabeth McGovern’s Nan, the stoic, exasperated sister who has always been there to pick up the pieces (there’s just the tiniest whiff of incest in the air). He rails at Pip (David Morrissey), the son of Ned’s work partner, for stealing from the one thing he prizes—Dad’s model house (Dad in a final twist has left the house not to Walker but to Pip).
But that is only the half of it. In the good old tradition of the memory play, Three Days of Rain works through flash-back to reframe perceptions of reality that prove to have been rather different to their appearance.
Greenberg takes a circuitous, slightly fuzzy way to tell it, but his message is ultimately a delicate and not unaffecting one—the false impression we carry of our parents. By the by, he also takes time out to cast off a few other generational and sibling asides as to family guilt, the emotional blackmail of the distressed and the strange dynamic of professional partnerships.
In the second half, in a carefully laid symmetrical shadow of the first act relationships, Greenberg lays out the truths—how Walker’s parents, Ned and Lina came together, and the bond between Ned and Theo, his workmate and friend.
bespectacled and halting as Ned, a man of few words on account of his
stammer, is almost unrecognisable and deeply moving, whilst McGovern
Lina a dangerous, attractive, Blanche du Bois emotional volatility.
Lefevre directs with an acute sense of the games people play.
Firth among equals
Anyone who believes in national characteristics should go to see Richard Greenberg's new play at the Donmar. The pivotal figure in Three Days of Rain is a compendium of traditional English attributes: he is ironic, sexually inhibited and diffidently courteous; he lives in damp conditions and he wears an unappealing cardigan. He is also American.
Actually, he is quintessentially American. Another character describes him acutely as making those around him 'emotionally fastidious to the point of paralysis', a description which would fit half the cast of a Henry James novel. And Greenberg's play is in several respects distinctively transatlantic. Its preoccupation with the past, its middle-class setting and its leisurely loquaciousness set it apart from most new British drama. Quick phrases and an unusually expressive structure mark it out as the work of a pungent writer.
This is a drama about family secrecy and inheritance which makes its points by artfulness of form and clever doubling of parts, as well as by debate. In the first half of the play, a brother and sister meet for the reading of their architect father's will. An ex-lover of the woman's, the son of their father's partner, arrives; it turns out that he is a chief beneficiary of the will. Why? The second half answers the question by going back 30 years to the Sixties and tracing a crucial period in the lives of these characters' mothers and fathers: each actor now plays her or his parent. The device—with its deceiving resemblances and differences—graphically explains how misunderstanding rumbles through generations.
This is a tremendous piece for actors and it is tremendously well-served by these actors. Each of them does something surprising.
McGovern begins with insufficient variation on two modes—ecstatic or
in the second half of the play slips elegantly into something Southern,
luscious and languorous. Her command to her future lover—'Say something
small to me while I'm changing'—comes near to a classic invitation.
Morrissey, taking the trickiest part—that of the nice bloke who is
to show that 'being in a good mood is not the same as being a
to have a huge gift for comedy as well as pathos: his easy, complacent
cajoling of the audience on his first entry enlarges the sympathies of
the play at a stroke. And Colin Firth is amazing. He is completely
as a pinched and bullying neurotic. As the neurotic's self-effacing and
secretly successful father, he is a miracle of corrugation.
We have seen plenty of new American plays about the grim underbelly of US society, so it is quite refreshing to watch Richard Greenberg’s Three Days of Rain. This witty and thoughtful play, beautifully staged by Robin Lefevre as part of the American Imports season at the Donmar Warehouse, deals with middle-claas neurosis and family feuds. A tale of the tensions and bonds between two generations of two families, it is peppered with knowing, urbane wit—enjoyably, if sometimes slightly smugly so. But it also mulls on the nature of inheritance and the peril of interpreting the past.
We begin in 1990s New York. A famous architect has just died and his adult son and daughter, Walker and Nan, together with Pip, the son of the architect’s partner, have been summoned to find out what he has left them. Of most interest is the innovative glass house that made his name. But there are tensions in the air. Nan is furious at Walker, a fabulously self-obsessed individual. Walker (Colin Firth) in splendid, Byronic mode) is mad at his father for all manner of things, but chiefly for being his father. Finally, he puts this fact together with a revelation in his father’s journal and jumps to a conclusion about his father’s life.
But his interpretation of events is wrong, as we discover when, in Act 2, we are spirited back to 1960 and the previous generation. Here we learn the truth about Walker’s mother and father, the truth about the genesis of the house, and truth behind the clipped phrases in the journal. The first act is full of fireworks, but it is here that Greenberg suggests his mettle as a writer. The scene between the young Ned and Lina, thrown together by three days of rain, is evocative and tender, and tinged with poignancy for the audience.
Lefevre’s production does the play proud, with the three actors giving excellent performances. Colin Firth contrasts movingly the willful, implacable misery of the son with the watchfulness of his shy, stuttering father. Elizabeth McGovern has the father’s watchfulness, as the daughter Nan, and also the lovely, mercurial quality of her mother. David Morrissey as Pip has the superficial self-assurances of his father, but also a generosity that offsets it. Pip is a delightful character, a nice man who refuses to be browbeaten by the prevailing notion that to be clever or sensitive you have to be miserable, and Morrissey gives a lovely performance. An elegant, bittersweet play that offers a lesson in perspective—and not just of the architectural kind.
So rich and resonant is Three Days of Rain that you suspect it might originally have been intended as a novel or screenplay. There is no doubt that Richard Greenberg’s compelling family drama would have lent itself to whichever form he’d set his mind to.
The prosaic title refers to a typical entry in the diary of recently deceased Ned Janeway, a celebrated American architect. His neurotic drop-out son Walker (Colin Firth) is hoping to inherit the family home—a world renowned architectural masterpiece designed by Ned and his former partner, Theo—but it’s the emotional legacy he should be worrying about.
Having avoided his father’s funeral, Walker has finally turned up in New York to confront his exasperated sister Nan (Elizabeth McGovern), and Theo’s son Pip (David Morrissey), an actor in TV soaps and an old flame of Nan’s. The three quarrel, make up, fondly recall the past and bemoan the present..
After the interval, we retreat thirty years to meet the previous generation—Ned and Theo (play by Firth and Morrissey), and Lina (McGovern), the quick-witted, hard-drinking lover of both men, who combines the brittleness of Katherine Hepburn with the vulnerability of Blanche Dubois. What we learn about those ‘three days of rain’ makes it clear that this was some kind of understated metaphor for a time of turmoil in the lives of Ned and Theo. Slowly, you begin to understand how the sins of the fathers have been visited on their luckless children.
Greenberg may sometimes appear to indulge his obvious gift for one-liners, but they are usually consistent with the character speaking them and, as the play develops, any early flashiness gives way to solid story-telling and intelligent exposition.
Robin LeFevre’s production is cannily understated, allowing three exceptionally strong performances to carry the full force of the text. These are roles that any actor hungry for a challenge would give his or her eye teeth for. Firth, Morrissey and McGovern do not disappoint.
that the Donmar’s boss, Sam Mendes, has emerged as one of the hottest
directors in the States, perhaps we can expect a film version of Three
Days of Rain before too long. If so, Mendes would be well advised to
this tremendous trio.
Return of a Starry Cast to the Donmar
Back in March Three Days of Rain put in a brief appearance as part of the Donmar’s American Import season. It returns for a longer spell in the same poised production, stylishly directed by Robin Lefevre, and with the same splendid cast. Colin Firth, Elizabeth McGovern and David Morrissey play a couple of parts apiece, and out of the six at least two (from Firth and McGovern) had me throwing my critical umbrella to the wind.
As for the other four: well, they lose out to different degrees in the grand scheme of Richard Greenberg’s likeable but sometimes surface-deep script. The first half is set in 1995, the second rewinds to 1960. In the first, brother and sister Walker and Nan (Firth and McGovern) reunite with intimate friend of the family Pip (Morrissey) for the reading of their father’s will.
Walker is a neurotic dropout who lays his feelings firmly at his parents’ feet. Pip, whom Walker resents for being closer to his father than himself, is happy with his lot as a second-rate soap actor. Nan—well Nan is little more than a buffer between the other two.
Fair enough and all perfectly well played, but all really an excuse for Walker to chance upon his father’s journal. “Three days of rain” is the first entry: its inscrutability incenses him. “When people never talk to you, you always suppose they are harbouring some enormous secret—but maybe they have nothing to say,” he digs away.
Or maybe they do, but in a different way. In the second half the trio play their characters’ respective parents. Here Firth and Morrissey are struggling architects Ned and Theo. Theo is theoretically the flamboyant genius, Ned the practical dogsbody, though again appearances fall short of the truth. McGovern plays a flirtatious, hard-drinking, self-aware Southern girl who has an affair with one and then, during that three-day downpour, the other.
I imagine, wants to show how easily the old folk, trying to make the
of their own limitations, can be misunderstood by their children,
of their own larger emotional life. Fittingly then, the second half is
much more vivid than the first; this is where Firth and, especially,
really come into their own, playing off each other with a touching
of awkwardness and allure, misgiving and giving. Greenberg’s script
up its multiple reflections with a pleasuring light touch and a gentle
ironic wit. Hardly ground-breaking, but a welcome revival nonetheless.
A Subtle Exploration of the Legacy of Love
Queues for returns are already forming for this clever New York chamber play by Richard Greenberg, starring Colin Firth, David Morrissey and Elizabeth McGovern. Robin Lefevre’s quietly excellent production was given a fleeting premiere in March with the same top-calibre cast and its return to the West End is welcome.
Greenberg’s play blends social satire and serious family tensions, sometimes looking like a knowing cross between Woody Allen and Tennessee Williams, as the action shunts backwards from the Nineties to 1960.
In the present day, Firth plays a smart-witted but chronically neurotic thirty-something called Walker. A bit of a Manhattan Hamlet, he did a runner a year back after the death of this father, Ned, a celebrated architect. But now, returning to his native soil, Walker intends to deal with his problematic legacy, and he meets up with his long-suffering sister Nan (McGovern) and childhood friend and rival Pip (David Morrissey).
Walker and Nan wryly recall their parents’ rotten marriage and argue with Pip about hitherto undisclosed attractions and about who should reside in their father’s most renowned, largely glass home.
Then the action cuts back and, in the same room, we rivalries and a love triangle from the past unfold. Firth changes into the desperately shy Ned. Morrissey resurfaces as Pip’s father, Theo, who was Ned’s architectural partner, and McGovern appears as Nan’s mother, the ambitious Southern belle, Lina.
Thus Three Days of Rain is a manifestly tempting showcase for a trio of flexible actors while, thematically, contemplating processes of inheritance, the inescapability and elusiveness of the past, and the complexity and mutability of relationships. We perceive how personal characteristics resurface, refracted through a prism, when Firth transforms from the motor-mouthed, egocentric Walker to the stuttering yet secretly determined Ned.
script has its weaknesses. There’s a long-lost diary, which is a creaky
device, and the play’s ending feels rather brusque, like an unfinished
building. But he welds domestic tiffs and poetic monologues seamlessly
and this cast are extremely deft. Morrissey’s Pip, a wannabee smoothie,
hovers unsettlingly between patience, fondness and predatoriness.
is alternately dreamily sweet, steely and canny while Firth treads a
line between absurd twitchiness and arresting intensity. And in the
half, their tentative romance is acutely charming, shot through with a
growing sense of future sadness.
Taking a Fresh View Across the Pond
If one were to judge America solely on the plays from across the Atlantic that are well received in Britain, one could be forgiven for thinking it consisted of little more than trailer-park trash who speak mostly in monosyllables. Or so such erstwhile London successes as Tracy Lett’s Killer Joe and Rebecca Gilman’s The Glory of Living, among many others, have suggested.
It’s against that perception—a view of the States guaranteed to leave British audiences feeling superior—that one especially welcomes the return to the Donmar Warehouse this week of Richard Greenberg’s Three Days of Rain.
Greenberg’s play was first seen in London last March as the runaway hit of the Donmar’s three-play American Imports season, with the same performers (Colin Firth, Elizabeth McGovern and David Morrissey) who are reteaming for this extended run. In context, it’s almost as if Greenberg’s play contains specific rebuttals to the criticisms levelled against American plays abroad. You want irony? Three Days of Rain is fuelled by a central irony that won’t be revealed here, along with a prevailing loquaciousness at odds with the heightened inarticulacy of, say, Sam Shepard and David Mamet.
Nor does he trade in the TV movie-of-the-week teariness that raises British hackles. ‘That’s sentimental,’ snaps budding architect Firth to McGovern, his bride-to-be, at one point as if to squash any such tendencies in the play itself. It is little surprise, then, that Greenberg tends to be compared to droll American satirists of a bygone era such as Philip Barry (The Philadelphia Story) more than he does to his own generation.
He’s a dramatist out of time whose play deals teasingly with time. (Firth and McGovern play an estranged brother and sister in Act One, and their own parents 35 years earlier in Act Two.) The result looks set to be the first international success for Greenberg, 41, who has so far written 12 plays. In 1988, he became the overnight darling of then-New York Times critic Frank Rich with a play Eastern Standard, that was regarded as a defining expos of Yuppie values.
This summer saw the New York premiere of arguably his most personal play—a black comedy, Hurrah at Last, about a writer seemingly struck down with an Aids-like disease. Much the same happened to Greenberg several years ago; he turned out to have what the play describes as a ‘curable cancer’.
The next one, due to open off Broadway next year, may make the boldest statement yet about his burgeoning reputation: its title, quite simply, is The Dazzle.
|Click on boots to contact me||