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By Leela Ginelle, PQ Monthly

It’s 1995 Manhattan. Boston business woman Nan (Lisa Datz) has come to a derelict apartment to collect her troubled, eccentric brother Walker (Silas Weir Mitchell) to attend their father’s will reading.

That father, Ned Janeway, was a wildly lauded architect, and the co-designer, with his partner Theo Wexler, of an iconic house whose description calls to mind Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water. Also attending the reading is Theo’s son Pip (Sasha Roiz), an easy going, contentedly shallow TV actor.

In Three Days of Rain’s (at Portland Center Stage through June 21) first half we learn about Ned and Leo’s legacy, the former’s broken marriage with the mentally unstable Lina, and Walker’s difficulty with his uncommunicative father. Though the material touches on dark subject matter, and Walker emerges as seriously imbalanced, the writing has a slightly superficial, conversational tone that precludes deep involvement.

The fist act’s best moments come when Pip and Walker engage, and the former lays bare their entire back history in an uncharacteristic burst of candor. It’s a jaw dropper that enriches all that’s come before.

The three actors are fine in the first half, particularly Mitchell, who cuts through the occasional sitcom-y nature of the writing with a frazzled intensity, recalling a less forceful Michael Keaton. In the much richer second half, the three have more to play, and create something deep and special together.

PCS’s stage is, as usual, a wonder to behold. A brick apartment, within a huge metropolis, it conveys a large city, in which people are both stifled and lost. In the first act, we learn Walker has occupied the space, because it’s where Ned and Leo designed their famous “Janeway House,” and he’s hoping to learn, via osmosis, more about them, and about his own past.

He’s discovered a journal kept by his father, filled maddeningly laconic, cryptic entries about what were seemingly the man’s most momentous experiences. In act two of the play, the audience travels back to 1960, when the journal begins, and the Janeway House is designed, to see for ourselves what transpired for Lina, Ned and Theo, enacted by Datz, Mitchell, and Roiz, and learn the truth of things that, for their offspring, will always be mysteries.

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In playwright Richard Greenberg’s hands, it’s a powerfully emotional conceit. Nearly every minute of Act Two offers a special resonance with what’s come before, so that the audience constantly thinks, “Oh, that’s why . . .” or, “Oh, no wonder Nan said . . . ” etc. There’s a puzzle quality to such a structure, but Three Days of Rain never feels dry or cerebral.

Lina, Ned and Theo all brim with vulnerabilities and passions, and having already seen the wreckage that lies ahead of them, each choice they make feels both joyous and melancholy. Foreboding, in fact, is a theme of Act Two, voiced by Lina, as she becomes involved with Ned, and Ned, himself, before beginning to draft a work.

It’s a joy in Act Two to see how different the actors’ performances are from the ones they give in Act One. Roiz, a bit schlubby as Pip, is like a wiry panther as Theo, all drive and aggression. Mitchell, a disaster as Walker, projects wry self-containment as Ned. Datz, weary and common sense driven as Nan, expertly draws the fragile bewitching Southern belle Dina later.

The performances, too, carry a special resonance, inviting the audience to wonder how much of who the characters in the first act became was a reaction to what they’d seen of their parents growing up? Likewise, certain moments, such as Ned’s rhapsody about how being a man who walks the city with no purpose or agenda is the finest life, lead one to speculate about how much the children became fulfillments of such unconscious wishes.

The show’s direction is elegant and spare, the costumes fantastic, and the music a rich treat for fans of small combo jazz. While not perfect, Three Days of Rain has a special magic, a feeling of almost perpetual discovery about the most fundamental questions of life, that’s both ecstatic and blue–a mystery with infinite solutions.

“Three Days of Rain” at Portland Center Stage through June 21.
BlogTail_Leela Ginelle

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