BWW Reviews: A Generational Mystery Unfolds in THREE DAYS OF RAIN at Portland Center Stage
Have you ever looked at photograph of a parent or grandparent taken when they were young and not recognized them because maybe they were laughing, when you always knew them as sad? How do you reconcile the person in the photograph with the person of your experience?
A friend of mine often says, "No one is living the life you think they are." As I watched THREE DAYS OF RAIN by Richard Greenberg, currently playing at Portland Center Stage, I realized how true that statement is.
As the lights go up, it's 1995 and we meet Walker Janeway, the neurotic middle-aged son of famed architect Ned Janeway. Walker's childhood was not one to envy -- his father was silent; his mother was crazy; and they ended up together because she was "of a certain age," everyone else was pairing off, and they were the last two people in the room. Not exactly a recipe for happiness. Now, staying temporarily in a small room in Manhattan that previously belonged to Ned, Walker discovers his father's journal, a sparse, cryptic record of life that Walker is sure is the key to understanding the man behind the silence.
Enter Nan, Walker's more well-adjusted, suburban sister, and Pip Wexler, the son of Ned's deceased business partner, Theo. The three have come together for the reading of Ned's will, upon which they discover that Ned has left the award-winning house that launched his architectural stardom to Pip, rather than to his own children. The mystery begins.
In Act 2, we are transported back 35 years to 1960, when the room served as both home and office to Ned and Theo, young men trying to establish their place in the architectural world. We meet Lina and learn about the complex relationships among the three characters and, yes, the secrets of the journal. As the puzzle is pieced together, we discover that none of them lived the lives their children thought they were.
One of the biggest draws of this production is the casting of Grimm stars and local favorites Silas Weir Mitchell, in the roles of Walker and Ned Janeway, and Sasha Roiz as both Pip and Theo Wexler. Nan and Lina (Nan and Walker's mother) are played by Broadway, TV, and film veteran Lisa Datz.
The acting award of the evening goes to Silas Weir Mitchell. Though no doubt father and son, the two characters he plays are vastly different. Walker Janeway is a total mess -- neurotic and loud and completely self-absorbed -- but still charismatic in the way tortured, intelligent people often are. Ned Janeway is cautious and quiet and has a sometimes-crippling stutter, but is also charismatic in his own quiet, intelligent way. You can see why Lina falls for him.
That's not to say that Roiz and Datz don't give solid performances. They just have less to work with. Pip Wexler the son is very much like Theo Wexler the father. And while Lina is an interesting creature -- a southern Belle on the brink of lunacy whose time is running out -- Nan's purpose is mainly to receive and occasionally respond to Walker's ravings.
A fourth star of the show is the spectacular set by scenic designer Scott Fyfe. All season at Portland Center Stage, the sets have seemed like an exercise in one-upmanship, and it's fortunate this is the last show because I can't imagine anything beating this one. Fyfe has constructed not just a room in a Manhattan building, but the whole exterior, brick walls and all. It's beautiful.
The play is about how difficult it is for generations, and for people in general, to truly know one another, and about how the present both misunderstands the past and miscalculates the future. It's funny and it's sad. The characters are sometimes sympathetic, often maddening.
This may be weird, but ultimately I found it uplifting, like looking at those old photos. Because it made me realize that even if all we experience of someone is that they are sad (or silent or crazy), it's nice to know that once -- for however brief a time -- they were laughing.
THREE DAYS OF RAIN runs through June 21. For tickets, visit www.pcs.org.
Photo credit: Patrick Weishampel/www.blankeye.tv