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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The American Plan
St James Theatre Summer 2013

A couple of other critics have found things to admire in Richard Greenberg's play, and I invite you to search out their reviews. For me the play failed on the most basic of levels – I could not believe in the characters or what they did and said. 

A nice young man meets a clearly mentally disturbed young woman and falls in love with her. Her manipulative mother first interferes to push the romance along and then to sabotage it. 

Late in the play a new character arrives to introduce a whole new plot line which complicates matters for a while and is then dropped, so things end more or less where they began, with everyone (with the possible exception of the mother) unhappy. 

In a programme note Greenberg acknowledges that this early play was something of an apprentice work for him, and its underlying flaw is that the characters are all literary constructs, not real people. 

The boy is the innocent out of his depth, whose only function is to not understand anything that's going on – he's Charles in Brideshead Revisited, Nick in The Great Gatsby, the narrator of Breakfast At Tiffany's. The girl is part Holly Golightly, part Rima The Bird Girl, part the Tuesday Weld character in Pretty Poison. The mother is Cousin Bette, Livia in I Claudius, Joan Collins in a glossy TV soap. 

Conceived so far from reality, they never feel real, and so nothing they do or say seems likely. 

The poor girl is obviously barking mad from the start and yet the boy doesn't run for his life but falls for her. One solid fact we are given about the mother is that she is a terrible snob, looking down her nose at everyone, and yet (in the early 1960s) she treats her black cook as an equal. (Actually, I'm not sure why that character is there at all – she doesn't seem to do much.) 

The second act intruder has a specific goal, which he happily drops when something else comes along. And the play ends with a ten-years-later epilogue that has Dramatic Irony written all over it where Probability and Believability should be. 

If you accept that she is playing a fictional construct and not a real character, Diana Quick brings some juicy darkness to the mother that is fun to watch. The rest of the admirably hard-working cast fight a losing battle to make their characters, words and actions believable.

Gerald Berkowitz


Review -  The American Plan - St James Theatre 2013
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