Sunday, February 1, 2009

Review: The American Plan

Some Plans Unravel

By Lauren Yarger
What do a young heiress, her overbearing mother, a handsome suitor and a mysterious visitor add up to? Not what you’re thinking. No matter what you’re thinking.

It’s supposed to add up to The American Plan, the ideal of what we’re supposed to be and how we’re supposed to act, but nothing is what it seems in Richard Greenberg’s play at The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in New York. It’s almost like the playwright started out as with a treatment of Henry James’ “Washington Square,” but got a modern triangle instead.

Heiress Lili Adler (Lily Rabe) woos men, apparently a new one each year, from the hotel across the lake from where she and her Jewish war refugee mother, Eva (Mercedes Ruehl), summer in the 1960s Catskills. Lili loathes her mother, known to locals as the “czarina,” who sang lullabies about Nazis and happiness only being for other people. Lili also believes Eva murdered her father. She feels more affection for the maid, Olivia, (Brenda Pressley).

This year’s conquest is Nick Lockridge (Kieran Campion), a dashing WASPy journalist. All goes according to plan until a mysterious guest, Gil Harbison (Austin Lysy), arrives. Is Nick really who he claims to be? Is Eva obsessively trying to suffocate her daughter’s happiness or is she protecting Lili from someone trying to take advantage of her? Will Lili be able to escape from her mothers control? Is she really as naïve as everyone thinks? The answers play out in several plot twists at the lake and 10 years later in a New York apartment and reveal that the best knitted plans often unravel.

Ruehl is commanding as the imperial and hardened Eva (there’s a great metaphor about her soaking in salt water), and does justice to the bits of humor found in Greenberg’s script, but the performance isn’t enough to give the story the oompf it needs to make us care about these people. Olivia is underdeveloped and leaves questions about why she is there and what the nature of her relationship is with the two women. Under David Grindle’s direction, Rabe’s portrayal of Lili is strong, robust and energetic, with her emotions boiling over in contradiction with the script, which seems to indicate Lili’s emotions would simmer under a lid of insecurity and mental instability. She seems more formidable than Eva.

Jonathan Fensom (scenic and costume design) offers a sparse set with a large dock that rotates and tree-painted curtains that swish by in front and back of it during scene changes. Some of the characters appeared in the same costumes although days were supposed to have passed.

The American Plan never quite delivers or satisfies, failing itself, like its main theme, to live up to the ideal of what everyone expects.

Christians might also like to know:
• God’s name taken in vain
• Sex outside of marriage
• Homosexual activity

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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