Like a combination of a glossy bygone Sandra Dee weeper mixed with Far From Heaven, Todd Haynes contemporary take on that era, The Artistic Home’s potent production of The American Plan sweeps you away with nostalgia – and trembling waves of regret.
It is summer in the Catskills in the late 1950’s and privileged, quirky Lil Adler has fallen in love with handsome Nick Lockridge. Even when Lil’s domineering mother, Eva, lets Nick know the true nature of Lil’s fragile emotional state and uncovers his questionable past, the two seem drawn toward a sure future together. But after a mysterious stranger arrives, Eva’s iron clad hold on Lil is soon revealed while Nick’s secrets threaten to destroy everything the young lovers have hoped for.
Borrowing a bit from Tennessee Williams and Ross Hunter, playwright Richard Greenberg creates an evocative tale of shattered dreams and unfulfilled desires. Using rich imagery and vivid back story, he often leaves you in a state of hopeful curiosity as you wonder which way the story will unfold. In that respect, his second act revelation, concerning the true nature of Nick’s background, is tantalizing. But, his characters are so mired in their untruths that he occasionally misses needed beats and motivations, ultimately, allowing for a superior work that still seems a bit imperfect at the evening’s end.
Director Robin Witt, meanwhile, with the help of sound designer Adam Smith and costumer Emily McConnell, perfectly captures the piece’s time period. Witt effectively sends audience members into another world, even despite her creative misstep with lead actress Margaret Katch.
As, Lil, Katch seems truly connected to her character and is capable of moments of supreme beauty, but Witt ultimately directs her in such a socially affected manner that she rarely comes off as a true human being. Meanwhile, Kathy Scambiatterra has moments of understated brilliance as the evil Eva and Tim Musachio twists Gil, his wrench throwing stranger, into a passionately antagonistic take on vengeful love. It is Nick Horst, as Nick, that connects the deepest, though. Horst delivers a deeply emotional, heart sore performance. His charisma helps make The American Plan, despite any flaws, an often beautiful, completely recommended piece of theater.
Here, the talented Horst, an ensemble member of The Artistic Home, talks a bit about the creative process behind The American Plan.
Sheridan Road: What has been the most interesting aspect about the creative process of The American Plan for you?
Nick Horst: The most interesting aspect of putting together The American Plan was the opportunity to work with an amazing cast and director Robin Witt. As an ensemble member with The Artistic Home, it is always a nice change of pace to bring an outside director onto a project. From the beginning of rehearsals Robin brought such a precise vision of The American Plan. It made my job easier as an actor because I was given a clear sense of where Robin was taking us. I also think the bar was raised because we wanted to match Robin’s enthusiasm and preparedness and make sure we tell this beautiful story as best we can.
SR: You bring a very impressive, genuine sense of decency to Nick in The American Plan. You brought the same essence to Al, another recent role, in Tea and Sympathy. Is that something that is inherent in those characters, themselves, or is that something that you’ve added to the roles, yourself?
NH: Well, thank you very much, and as much as I’d love to say it was all me, I think Nick and Al are somewhat similar. Both have a heavy conscience and strive to do the right thing. They are essentially good people who care so much about the people around them, but are aware of the social stigma and consequences about what they really want. With Al, it was about the struggle of not wanting to abandon his friend and roommate, but knowing that there was no way he could get around it. And Nick, who is a little more complex then Al, has to struggle with who is really is, what he really wants and if can he live in society having these things. Although, both, have been given different circumstances in life, I think both would react similarly if put in the same situation.
SR: Playwright Richard Greenberg and director Robin Witt have truly brought the essence of the late 50’s to the stage with The American Plan. But, how do you feel the play relates emotionally to a modern audience?
NH: I think every time The Artistic Home puts on a play, we have to ask, “How does this relate to today?”; “Will audiences be able to relate to this?” One of the themes of this play is “The American Dream” and is it for everyone? And by that, is everyone given an equal opportunity to achieve it? I think today that issue is all around us, with the question of equality. You try to create this ideal life for yourself, but in certain situations society unfairly stacks the deck against you. In The American Plan you have five characters who, even in the 1950s, are dealing with the same issues that we still see today. This season at The Artistic Home we wanted to focus on the idea of “being true to yourself” and I think no matter what the time and place, people will always be able to connect characters who are striving for that.
The American Plan runs through August 26th at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Avenue. Tickets are $28 -$32 and can be purchased by visiting www.stage773.org or by calling 773-327-5252. —Brian Kirst