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Sins of the fathers


by Michael Bowen

In 21 seasons, Interplayers has done nearly 150 productions. Over the latter half of that span, in the last decade, I've seen more than 50 of them. This one -- the current one, Robin Stanton's production of Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain -- is, in the last 10 years, among the half-dozen finest.

And that's probably shortchanging it.

So even if you don't much care for "the theatah," have been putting off going, aren't sure why it has to seem so intimidating and don't see what the big deal is when movies can generate much better special effects, you still have to go see this play. Stanton's production of Three Days of Rain is about as good as live theater onstage gets, at least in these parts. Which, one hopes, promises many valuable communal gatherings around future Interplayers productions.

In Greenberg's play, a couple of thirty-something architects collaborate in 1960 to design some of the 20th century's most important buildings; they compete with each other both for architectural distinction and for a woman. Thirty-five years later, their children -- the sons of the two architects, and one of their daughters, now likewise in their 30s -- try to work out the anxieties and disappointments of relating to their parents.

Greenberg time-flips the tale: we see the children first, in 1995, then travel back in time to witness just how badly they misjudge their parents. Three actors double both as the children and as their own parents 35 years before.

The performances are masterful. One of the sons, Walker, is played by David Seitz with such manic intensity, there's a constant concern that the character will freak out and be reduced to mere caricature. Evidently, he is competing to become the world's angriest young man, pacing about, paranoid and incensed by the embarrassment of riches with which his father, now dead, has left him.

The father was uncommunicative -- a "fact" of which his angry, over-privileged son is supremely confident. But in the flashback, we get another version of events -- and in the second act, Seitz responds with a fascinating transformation. Far from the manic intensity he showed earlier, when Seitz proceeds to play Ned, the famous architect-father, he walks erect, in measured paces, almost robotic. That kind of self-control is seen by the son as remoteness; instead, it's a survival strategy for a shy and self-doubting man.

The cast's only woman, Holli Hornlien, is a member of Actors' Equity (rare for Interplayers) and it shows. In the first act, she's Nan -- professional woman, mother, sister of a troubled genius and daughter of a mother even more troubled. In the second act, she plays her character's mother -- irrepressible Lina, the southern woman who admits to 30, whose intelligence and joie de vivre inspires not just one but two great architects. Lina is both the muse who inspires art and the harpy who, in a jealous rage, comes near to destroying it.

Hornlien nails both parts. Her Nan is forceful and intelligent but reserved, almost prim in her desire to avoid unpleasantness. Hair pulled back, East Coast formal, her voice in the lower register, she's the picture of self-restraint. Her brother has been such a trial to her, but still she's stunned to discover within herself the wish that he might be destroyed. Nan craves the comfort of her comfortable middle-class existence. Hornlien's second character is a polar opposite to her first one. Right from her brassy entrance at the top of Act Two -- this time as Lina, a woman who dares in 1960 to have such things as opinions -- it's clear that Hornlien is capable of inhabiting entirely different women and doing so convincingly. Playing a faded Southern belle, she successfully avoids the excesses of Blanche DuBois and delivers two bewitching performances.

Both Seitz and Hornlien deliver tours de force in their dual roles. The contrast between the two characters depicted by Patrick Braillard -- Theo and Pip, father and son -- is less pronounced, both in the script and in the playing. Three Days of Rain nevertheless remains among the very best local theatrical efforts in recent memory.

Seven years ago, Interplayers' production of Jane Martin's Keely and Du crystallized the abortion debate. In it, a pregnant woman is held against her will by pro-life crusaders and compelled to give birth. As a result, audiences were compelled to contemplate the moral dimensions of choice and to regard the imposition of morality as potential tyranny. It's a play people are still talking about all these years later because it forced viewers to attempt holding two opposed ideas in mind at the same time.

Three Days of Rain, the script -- and this production of it -- does much the same. Parents are guilty because their children's reach exceeds their grasp -- or because it doesn't. Children know the truth about their parents; they don't know the first, most basic things about their parents.

Greenberg's trio of characters are walkers in search of a mystery. They belong in a painting by Edward Hopper, wandering city streets in darkness, then stopping for solitary meals in all-night diners.

Their whispered conversations are worth the listening. So go to the theater, sit in the dark, eavesdrop on them. Their playfulness, their serious examination of our aspirations and defeats, Greenberg's serious play -- all of it -- is certainly worth overhearing.