The American Plan
If the "American Dream" is all about success and prosperity, then those determined enough to jockey and elbow their way toward its fulfillment are going to need a plan to get there. For Nick Lockridge, one of the central characters in Richard Greenberg’s play "The American Plan," the plan includes marriage to the right sort of young women, from the right sort of family, before embarking on the right sort of career.
Nick Miller plays Nick in the Happy Medium production of "The American Plan," running through June 16 at the Factory Theater (791 Tremont Street in Boston). Miller gives Nick an anxious, driven edge; when his character meets Lili (Robyn Linden), a slightly unstable but clearly very smart young woman, sparks instantly fly.
Nick is vacationing in the Catskills with his girlfriend and her family. Lili, speaking dismissively of Nick’s girlfriend, demands to know whether it’s true that she’s a nymphomaniac. Nick, though claiming reluctance, seems all too eager to confirm it. Thus begins their courtship dance... but what do the two of them actually want from one another?
Lili is a fascinating blend of intellectual strength and emotional frailty. Her dialogue is shot through with mythic references, but her moods are changeable, even volatile. At one point, displeased because she feels ignored, Lili spreads a rumor among the elite set that Nick has a venereal disease. Nick is furious, but he’s also, in some sense, grateful, because the gossip and the reaction it provokes from his traveling companions, leaves him free to pursue Lili; it’s not long before the two of them are talking about plans for marriage.
But "The Duchess," as Lili’s mother, Eva, is known, is watching all this. Eva (Audrey Lynn Sylvia) may seem eccentric, but she’s coldly calculating, and in Nick she sees a kindred spirit. What is this young man up to, and what are his true intentions toward her daughter? Does he really work for TIME Magazine, as he claims? And is he from a wealthy family, as he intimates? Eva, a survivor of the horrors of Nazi Germany, hasn’t exactly lost faith in humanity; she still believes in people. But her faith is not in human benevolence so much as in the near-universal talent people have for self-serving deceptions.
It’s not until the arrival of a second young man, Gil Harbison (Mikey DiLoreto), that Eva has all the pieces of the puzzle, and she’s quick to put them all together. Eva is forever ready to make devilish deals, but if she recognizes in others artifice and manipulation, it’s because she is a master of those things herself; a deal is a deal only until it has served its purpose, and then it’s liable to evaporate. If Eva moves the people around her like chess pieces, it’s for the noblest of reasons--her daughter’s protection.
Or is it? Is Eva, so deft at playing others, simply fooling herself in keeping her daughter so tightly monitored and cosseted? Eva’s maid, Olivia (Lauren Foster), is like a reflection of Eva: Maternal, protective, and yet possessing a warmth and generosity that is far more forgiving and far more optimistic. The play poses many questions, and creates fascinating layers of dialogue not just between its characters, but within them as well. How well do we know ourselves and our own motives? How far can we trust ourselves, or anybody else? Even if we know we’re acting selfishly, is the friendly face we put on entirely artificial? Are self-love and selfless love invariably linked, two sides of the proverbial coin?
Director Melanie Garber guides her cast, and the audience, through the nuances of this deceptively complicated play. Set designer Sean A. Cote dresses up the performance space with a few well-chosen pieces of furniture, creating for us the illusion of the lakeside patio where much of the action takes place. Greg Jutkiewicz’s lighting deftly creates moods for each stage of the story. Abram Tamer’s sound design stands out for its subtlety. Happy Medium has done once more what it always does so well, selecting choice material and mounting a first-rate production on a shoestring.