No the virtual reunion reading of Three Days of Rain doesn’t star Julia Roberts or Bradley Cooper — but that is a good thing.
The two made their Broadway debuts in a 2006 production of Richard Greenberg’s play, co-starring Paul Rudd and directed by Joe Mantello, which was not well-received – though, needless to say, it did not affect their careers.
Instead, for a production available through March 21 (extended through March 25) as part of its new Curtain Call series, Manhattan Theatre Club has lured back its 1997 Off-Broadway cast: Patricia Clarkson, John Slattery and Bradley Whitford
This was years before their small screen roles that made them, if not household names, certainly familiar faces — two years before Whitford became a star as Josh Lyman in “The West Wing,” five years before Clarkson’s turn in “Six Feet Under” (and a slew of films), and a decade before Slattery started playing Roger Stirling on “Mad Men .”
Their performances – yes, even though in a Zoom reading – are the main reason it’s worth revisiting this play. There are other reasons: it has wit, pathos, and theatrical flourish, as well as a couple of subtly thought-provoking surprises. But you come away from the story more impressed with the actors’ great line deliveries and priceless facial expressions than with any deep insights from the playwright.
All three actors play two roles. In Act I, Clarkson and Slattery are siblings Nan and Walker, and Whitford is their childhood friend Pip. It is 1995, and they are gathered to hear the will of Nan and Walker’s father, a renowned architect named Ned Janeway, who was business partner with Pip’s father. Ned actually died a year earlier, but Walker disappeared immediately afterwards – something, it becomes clear, he has done with some regularity throughout their lives. Might he have inherited his reckless nature from his mother Lina, who is currently institutionalized, or developed his personality in reaction to the silent treatment from his father?
As Act I unfolds, Nan and Walker learn that their father gave away his world-famous Janeway House to Pip, rather than to his own children. Why?
There are occasional one-liners here. Walker explains at one point that he went to eat at a restaurant, where the waiter said “’If you need anything my name is Craig.’ I said ‘if I don’t need anything what will your name be?’” But much of the humor feels less imposed, deriving from the authentically observed way that such long-acquainted characters interact with, and react to, one another.
In these interactions, we learn much about their parents. Pip’s father Theo died young. Walker saw his father Ned as a cold man, who barely ever spoke, and to prove it, he shows Nan his father’s journal, which he has just discovered. He reads the curt entries from successive days: “Theo dying. Theo dying. Theo dead.” He also reads the very first entry: “Three days of rain.”
In Act II, it is back in 1960, and the three actors now play the parents – Whitford is now Pip’s father Theo, Slattery is now Walker’s father Ned, and Clarkson is now Nan’s mother Lina. We see what happened during those three days of rain. And what we see is that the children didn’t really know their parents. More intriguing, just about everything they assumed they knew about their parents – big things and little things — was wrong. I won’t elaborate, since much of the pleasure and the craft of the script is in the parceling out of these details. But a warning: Greenberg doesn’t clearly solve all the mysteries that he has presented – as if to say, our parents will always be unknown to us.
It is arguably a bonus of this reading, an extra thought-provoking layer, that all three actors were in their 30s when they first performed these roles, which is roughly the age of all their characters. Now, the men are both white-haired; all three are a quarter century older – closer to the age of the characters’ parents.