The American Plan: Ustinov Studio, Bath
The American Plan
Ustinov Studio, Bath
Taut, complex and darkly entertaining – that's Richard Greenberg's play about the New York Jewish community on holiday in the Catskills in 1959.
Think Woody Allen cracking Jewish jokes at the equivalent of Pontins or Butlins while offering up a mordantly pessimistic view of relationships and the nature of truth and you get the flavour.
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The play centres round a mother and daughter who each year rent a home across the lake from one of the big resorts.
Here the families escape the summer heat of the city to socialise, to indulge themselves and to eat. The American Plan was the equivalent of an English hotel's full board.
The mother Eva is controlling and the daughter Lili is psychologically unstable. Enter a handsome young beau, Nick, who swims across the lake and a romance with Lili ensues – or does it? And is the mother trying to buy him off or put him off?
Lili is known for telling lies and making up stories, but she is not the only one. No one in this play tells the truth, not Eva who manipulates, not Nick who is not what he seems, and not Gil who turns up with an agenda of his own.
The only character who remains constant is the Afro-American maid Olivia (Dona Croll) who, Sphinx-like, tells no one her dreams and who, like Penelope in Homer's Odyssey, knits but no end product ever appears.
Performances in this production directed by David Grindley are superb, and the relationships between each of the characters are utterly convincing if constantly perplexing.
Central to it all is Diana Quick's compelling Eva, around whose droll pronouncements and machinations the action revolves.
Emily Taaffe perfectly captures the impetuous, slightly hysterical Lili who seduces Nick, played by a believable Luke Allen-Gale. Mark Edel-Hunt is excellent as Gil who offers another thread to the plot that alters our view yet again of the nature of love.
The American Plan is funny, intricate, clever (spot the literary references) and while it leaves you full of uncertainty as to the moral and emotional outcome it is a wholly satisfying theatrical experience.
This is a fine start to Ustinov artistic director Laurence Boswell's American season.