Three Days of Rain
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 18, 2006
It's baffling to me that Julia Roberts has chosen Three Days of Rain for her Broadway appearance (do we really think, in the near term at least, that she'll be back?). Surely there are dozens of plays that would make more suitable vehicles; Pygmalion, a high-class version of Pretty Woman, comes instantly to mind. Vehicle, by the way, is the exactly appropriate word here, for the whole raison d'etre of this production is its star. You'd think that someone with her clout and resources could have found a better showcase for her gifts, something that would have rewarded the tens of thousands of fans who are spending $115+ to see their favorite movie star on stage in truly spectacular and memorable fashion.
Instead, said fans are getting a good (not great) play, in a listless and unimaginative production that has managed to drain from it whatever life and mystery that its author, Richard Greenberg, originally provided; and they're getting a competent (but only that) performance from Roberts, in two different roles for which she is ill-suited and in which she gives the opposite of a star turn, fading into the background whenever she's not front and center in a scene.
Three Days of Rain is a romantic mystery that begins in 1995 with the reunion of three thirtysomethings in a New York apartment. Walker and Nan are brother and sister; their father Ned died a year ago and Walker, whose whereabouts had been unknown for longer than that, has only just resurfaced in this abandoned loft that had belonged to their parents. Now the siblings are about to receive their inheritance, and in this they are joined by Pip, their lifelong friend and the son of Ned's business partner, Theo. Theo and Ned were architects—hugely successful and famous ones—and the inheritance promises to be substantial. But the legacy these men, along with Lina, Ned's wife, have really left behind for their children is one of unfulfilled promises and unanswered questions. Walker has discovered his father's journal in this apartment, and in reading it he has begun to gain some insight into who their parents were, and what made them do the things they did that ultimately shaped their children's lives, all these years later.
At the end of Act One, Nan correctly muses that they can never really know their parents; and then in Act Two, Greenberg gives us the chance that they never get, flashing backward to 1960, and the fateful few weeks when the lives of Ned, Lina, and Theo (and, therefore, their children) took unforeseen and irrevocable turns.
If you've seen Three Days of Rain before (as I have), I think you'll find that the tantalizing mysteries that Greenberg has skillfully woven into his script are largely missing from this production; is it simply that the work doesn't bear a second viewing, or that director Joe Mantello and his cast have somehow flattened and denatured the piece, turning a meditation on what we can and can't know into a standard-issue love triangle? I suspect that both forces are at play here, but I'm leaning toward the latter as the principal reason that this rendition of Three Days of Rain felt so uninteresting and uninvolving.
The cast, which in addition to Roberts consists of Paul Rudd as Walker/Ned and Bradley Cooper as Pip/Theo, is excessively youthful and pretty, which makes the play nice to look at but leaves much to be desired in terms of exploring its themes and plot twists. These characters just don't seem to have lived the way that Greenberg's characters are supposed to have done; Rudd, for example, is too naturally exuberant and apple-cheeked to really make us believe that Walker's brooding is anything but a pose—I was never convinced that this was a man who could allow himself to disappear from the world for months at a time, let alone that he had actually done so on and off for more than decade. As the older generation, none of the three actors conveys a sense of the period, and though there's some fitful sexual chemistry telegraphed among them from time to time, the complexity and depth of Ned, Lina, and Theo's complicated relationship is absent here. It was, in the end, hard to care about any of these people, and so the revelations when they came felt empty and unsatisfying, and certainly didn't leave us hungering for more.
Roberts is stiff and unyielding as Nan, and, affecting a coarse Southern accent, plays Lina like a refugee from a Tennessee Williams play. The costumes that Santo Loquasto has provided for her are flattering though entirely unglamorous; they also seemed, in the case of Lina, to be completely inappropriate to her character. Loquasto also designed the set, which is spatially confusing; I had trouble figuring out where the apartment ended and the outside terrace began. There is some impressive rain on stage (it's actually got its own credit in the playbill: Jauchem & Meeh), but it would probably have been better if Mantello and the producers had cast and staged the play more carefully instead of just obtaining the wettest and most authentic weather effect that money can buy.
Money is not at all an irrelevant subject here; this revival of Three Days of Rain is going to be remembered, if at all, as an economic event rather than a distinguished artistic one. That's unfortunate, because there's no reason at all why Roberts couldn't have made a Broadway debut that spotlighted her talents along with her box office pull. The actress, and her fans, deserve much better than this.