Chasing Tennessee Williams' crown

May 2, 2001

Three Days of Rain
By Richard Greenberg
Sydney Theatre Company
Wharf Theatre, Walsh Bay, Sydney
Until May 13


The southern belle makes a welcome return to modern US theatre in this mid-'90s play by prolific New York playwright Richard Greenberg. Greenburg was once described as the heir to Neil Simon, but in this play he aims for Tennessee Williams' crown.

In 1995 in a Manhattan loft, three post-modern young people live off the achievements and memories of their famous modernist parents.

In act two, we meet the parents — a pair of architects — and the woman who leaves one for the other. It is 1960 and the same loft — and the same actors, unfortunately.

Famous TV actor Marcus Graham plays the neurotic gay son in the first act and his shy, intellectual father in the second. With the body of a porn star, he's fantastically miscast. While Angie Milliken as the first act's sensible suburban daughter is bad enough, as act two's southern-fried mother her acting is ... but the word "acting" reminds me I'm in danger of irrelevance here.

Angie is a star, as is Marcus, and at a time when NIDA has just received a cool million (in real dollars!) from its proudest graduate, Mel Gibson, to help the actor-factory keep churning out soap opera cuties, it's ungrateful to expect better.

A pity though, because this is an interesting play with many resonances. It's a sort of mystery story: why did the famous architect leave his greatest work, a house he built for his parents, to his partner's son and not his own?

At the play's centre is the father's diary, found in the loft by his son. The son is obsessed by the enigmatic entry, "three days of rain". And why did he write that he owes everything to his partner and would have nothing without him? The son concludes that his father in fact had no talent, and traded on his partner's genius. He burns the diary in the end — to find catharsis or to end the obsession with his parents?

In the second act we find the truth, which, of course, is something quite different. This is a plot worthy of Ibsen and, with better actors, the play could indeed bear comparison with Tennessee Williams'.

But it nevertheless has a sort of neatness and, ultimately, safeness, which marks it as a work of the 1990s. Without the controlled madness and experience of genuine horror of Williams and others of that generation, Greenberg is like his first-act characters: forever remembering their great predecessors and their messy lives, but unable to share their genius.

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