NEW YORK – There’s almost no point discussing Richard Greenberg’s “Three Days of Rain” as a play. With Julia Roberts as its leading lady, it’s an event! Think Puffy in “A Raisin in the Sun.” Or Liz and Dick in “Private Lives.”
A celebrity changes theatergoing into an evening of status enhancement. It’s not about experiencing a play – it’s about telling your friends you saw Her.
It’s a shame because “Three Days,” which is about how we misperceive our parents’ lives, may be Greenberg’s most thoughtful play.
When it was first performed here, in 1997, with Patricia Clarkson, John Slattery and Bradley Whitford, it was quite moving. Here it falls flat. Maybe there just wasn’t enough rehearsal time for Roberts and her fellow actors, Bradley Cooper and Paul Rudd, to develop inner lives that might make their onstage actions more than cursory.
I know it’s a nuisance but I’m afraid I have to tell you the plot. In the first act Roberts and Rudd play Nan and Walker, the children of Theo, a famous architect who has just died. They meet for the first time in over a year for the reading of his will.
With them is Pip, the son of their father’s long-dead architectural partner, Ned. Pip is a close friend of the emotionally confused Walker, who does not know that many years earlier his sister and Pip had an affair.
They meet in a SoHo loft where their parents lived before their children were born. Walker discovers a diary his father kept, which he thinks explains much about Theo’s odd behavior.
In the second act we jump back 35 years. Roberts plays Lina, the Southern girl whose Zelda Fitzgerald-like charm captured Theo, now played by Rudd. Cooper plays Pip’s father, Ned. Virtually none of Walker’s assumptions about his parents turns out to be true.
A major problem in this production is that there’s no chemistry between Roberts and the men. At the end of the first act, for example, she kisses Cooper.
Given that Nan and Pip were once lovers, this should be a powerful moment, not just a peck on the forehead. Even if it ends that way the prelude to this kiss should suggest far more.
Similarly, in the second act, when Lina decides to betray Ned with Theo, it ought to be more startling than it is here.
Part of the problem is Joe Mantello’s direction. He never seems to know what to do with Roberts. For much of the first act she simply stands, arms folded, in an admittedly fetching black raincoat. Midway through the act, for no apparent reason, she starts knitting. None of this tells us anything about Nan.
Cooper and Rudd give their characters charm, but they often seem to be pushing, perhaps because Roberts projects so little. As mesmerizing as she is onscreen, she has surprisingly little stage presence.
The loft Santo Loquasto has designed conveys the two time frames beautifully, and Paul Gallo’s lighting should accentuate the drama. Unfortunately, there isn’t much.
THREE DAYS OF RAIN
Written by Richard Greenberg, directed by Joe Mantello. Sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto, lighting by Paul Gallo, music and sound by David Van Tieghem.
Cast: Julia Roberts (Nan/Lina), Paul Rudd (Walker/Ned), Bradley Cooper (Pip/Theo).
Playing at: The Bernard B. Jacobs Theater, 242 W. 45th St., New York. Through June 18. Tickets $61.25 to $101.25 (premium seats $251.25). Information: 1-800-432-7250 or www.telecharge.com.