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Salt Lake City Weekly Generational Divide

Three generations create and cope with the emotional fallout of "Three Days of Rain."

By Scott C. Morgan

FEBRUARY 23, 1998:  Sharply exploring ideas of disconnected families, mass-appeal pop culture, the agonies of artistic inspiration and the damaging ramifications of decisions made in life, Three Days of Rain contains sparkling dialogue that is, at times, intelligent, complex, and downright funny.

While the play has the potential to overwhelm the audience by tackling too many issues at once, all of its complex ideas are held in check, as they are tightly knit to six intriguing characters from two generations.

Long before it opened off-Broadway to unanimous critical acclaim, and its film rights were snatched up by Hollywood, Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain was already in Salt Lake Acting Company's 1997-'98 season line-up. Call it a lucky coincidence if you will, but SLAC has once again shown amazing foresight by producing a sublime rendering of Three Days of Rain in Salt Lake City just one month after the New York production closed.

The play focuses first on three middle-aged children of wealthy and established architects in 1995. Reunited for the reading of a father's will, the children reflect and make assumptions about their parents, while taking stock of their own life decisions.

Each child has taken a separate route, from the perpetually drifting Walker and his respectable-housewife sister Nan to the shallow actor Pip, whose claim to fame comes from playing a soap opera character.

As the inheritors to the legacy of their parents, the children grapple with who will ultimately inherit the architecturally acclaimed "Janeway House" that established their father's reputation. Along the way, they also wonder whether they were truly loved by their distant and unstable parents.

photo: Fred Hayes
Children of mistaken assumptions: Susan Dolan, Eric Robertson and Kurk Davidson in Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain.

Stumbling upon the run-down apartment where his father began his career, Walker discovers his father's diary. But its terse and cryptic entries, like "Theo is dying" and "Theo is dead," don't provide much insight into his father's life. That only frustrates Walker and Nan as they try to make sense of the puzzle fragments left by their parents' lives.

Although Greenberg offers the audience a great dose of truth by reversing the standard "cause-and-effect" storytelling device by setting the second act entirely in 1960 — 35 years earlier — the answers are still occasionally ambiguous. As the actors assume the roles of the children's parents right at the verge of creating the Janeway House, Greenberg furthers his exploration of the estranged relationships and misunderstanding between parents and children.

While the second act focuses mostly on the pains of artistic block and the human desire to become recognized and important, it's not as powerful as the first act and almost descends to "kitchen-sink drama" conventions. Yet it also lays down several clues to the parents' future and their ultimate influence on shaping their children's lives. It continues the emotional downpour that begins in the first act.

Usually credited as SLAC's resident designer, Keven Myhre shows he's just as versatile with the credit of director as he is with his regular duties. He fills in the play's layered complexities well, never allowing the audience's attention to waiver. Myhre's set design is also successful in creating an intimate but run-down apartment, which fits Pip's description of "interior decoration by Jeffrey Dahmer" to a tee.

The actors in Three Days of Rain are all first-rate, each believably fleshing out the extreme differences between the characters in each act. Kurk Davidson shows that he is capable of doing much more than the mechanical acting that was required of him while touring in Les Mis¸rables. Both of his characters were endearing, ranging from the lifelong drifter Walker to his stuttering and insecure father, Ned.

Susan Dolan had the right amount of middle-class respectability for Nan, who contrasted wildly with the vivacious and loud Lena. While Dolan's depiction of the self-proclaimed muse Lena borders on Southern stereotype, it never is so extreme that it becomes one-dimensional.

As Pip, Eric Robertson has the exact look of a pretty-boy soap actor, and he honestly fills out the character's low artistic aspirations. You truly believe that the most important things in his life are being recognized, making money and working out at the gym. And while Robertson's role as Theo in the second act is much smaller, he is able to make a good switch to a man struggling to live up to his artistic potential.

Even though Three Days of Rain is not perfect, it gives a wonderful insight into the mistaken assumptions that exist between different and disconnected generations. By showing how a person's actions either directly or indirectly affect other people's lives, the play allows the audience to create its own assumptions and guesses as it unfolds through the two unconventionally time-switched acts.

Whether the people adapting Three Days of Rain for film will make the play easier to understand for audiences by trashing the play's original structure for standard flashbacks remains to be seen. But right now, Salt Lake City audiences have an excellent example of the play in its original format at SLAC, before it can become potentially adulterated by Hollywood hands.

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