Feature by Gillian Daniels
Happy Medium Theatre’s The American Plan starts off light.
Set during an early-1960’s summer, a young couple meet cute and begin a hesitant courtship near a resort in the Catskill Mountains. The first act sets up initially simple obstacles, mysterious pasts and disapproving parents. By the second act, the play finally bears its teeth, revealing far more bile for the age than its nostalgic exterior would suggest.
The mid-twentieth century backdrop is a well-mined setting for modern fiction. It’s also just the right place to set a play that questions pre-conceived notions. Written by Tony-award winning playwright Richard Greenberg, a tight story like The American Plan is one of the reasons I enjoy theater. It presents what appears to be well-defined characters and spends the rest of the show undercutting these first impressions.
Robyn Linden plays the lead, Lili Adler. Smart, cheerful, and manic in her shift between moods, Lili is a miserable but bright young woman. Linden’s character wrestles with her isolation using humor and a keen intellect. In meeting Nick Lockridge (Nick Miller), she hopes to find a cure-all for her melancholy. Linden’s naiveté is endearing rather than foolish with Nick as a last hope in her disintegrating world.
Nick doesn’t seem to mind playing the part of the knight in shining armor for her. The audience is certainly rooting for him when Lili’s mother, the aristocratic, imperious, manipulative, and, most menacing of all, thick-accented Eva Adler (Audrey Lynn Sylvia) is revealed. Sylvia’s antagonist is fascinating, bent on keeping her daughter from the world. Her evidence that it really is for Lili’s own good, however, is substantial.
Olivia Shaw (Lauren Foster) adds gravity towards the house where Lili has been locked up. Foster keeps her character elevated over the sassy black maid stereotype, instead producing a cool and enigmatic performance as the gatekeeper to the home in the Catskills.
The play’s second part reframes the action of each character, producing turns that all but the most attentive of audiences won’t expect.
Happy Medium Theatre gives the cast beautiful, decade-appropriate attire and props that betray excellent attention to period detail. When Lili’s world is broken down and reformed, its outward trappings still remain bright and pleasant. Eventually, though, the audience is shown that a pretty resort destination does not make up for the era’s rigid social norms. The ending, dark without being dire, will hopefully leave viewers in a thoughtful, introspective place.