Happiness is the American Plan?

The American Plan

St James’ Theatre

Performance date: 8 August 2013, running until 10 August 2013

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An “American Plan” at a hotel is an accommodation package which includes three meals a day. It’s what Nick Lockridge (Luke Allen-Gale) is escaping when he swims across a lake in the Catskills and encounters Lili Adler (Emily Taaffe) on her family’s private jetty. Lili is looking for her own escape from her controlling German-Jewish refugee mother, Eva (the marvellous Diana Quick, best remembered as Lady Julia Flyte in the original BBC Brideshead Revisited) and latches on to Nick. All Lili wants is for Nick to be on her side, no matter what. But will Nick truly care for her? What secrets are being hidden and what will be their destructive power if revealed?

Performances from all five cast members are excellent. Quick clearly relishes the meaty matriarchal role, and the mother-daughter chemistry with Taaffe was highly realistic, each knowing just how to push the other’s buttons. Taaffe’s Lili was like an anxious bird, crashing into the bars of her cage, while Allen-Gale was wonderfully winsome as an All-American beef cake who may be more, or less, than he seems.

Sets were spare but effective. A curled wooden jetty surrounded by reflective black tiles suggesting water, a small table, a tea set. The unchanging set underlined the stasis that Lili feels she is stuck in.  Costumes included some swoon-worthy 60s frocks.

This play, written by Richard Greenberg and first performed in 1990, is set in the 1960s. Some themes of the play are given a more modern treatment than would be expected in a play actually penned when it was set. Multi-dimensional characters, dry dialogue and a well-paced production revealing a few twists meant that shades of anachronism did not detract from the play’s impact or entertainment value.

An American Plan is not just an accommodation package, it could be a way of living, having it all or a nuclear family. This play considers what compromises we would be prepared to make for happiness – however it looks, and what might stop us from achieving it. There are no easy answers in this enigmatic story. Highly recommended.

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