Six characters find an author

WaterTower's splendid production of Three Days of Rain makes you expect more from this theater company

Now that I've enjoyed a sad, funny, subtle evening of family memories and unseen fates in WaterTower Theatre's sterling production of Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain, I must express my gratitude by harassing producing director Gayle D. Pearson with the following plea. (Right about now, the sounds of collective eye-rolling in Addison have reached the shrieking crescendo of a race car rounding a sharp turn.) Why isn't your organization using two great resources--the full potential of the custom-designed, multifunctional theater originally called the Addison Centre Theatre, and Addison's hotel-motel tax supporting the arts--to give Dallas Theater Center a run for its money and create more smart, entertaining productions of new plays like Three Days of Rain? It's not like you have to compete with the Undermain for rights to shows about uterine paranoia and punk rock. Instead, you're headed in the opposite extreme with your next production, Pump Boys and Dinettes, and a thinly worn assortment of commercial fare. Musicals are wallet-padding crowd pleasers, yes, but Theatre Three, which is hobbling back to financial health after nearly dying a couple of times in the '90s, has managed regional premieres like Triumph of Love. If you're gonna serve tripe, at least get it from a fresh kill.

Of course, the exact identity of WaterTower Theatre is uncertain now--there are five finalists for the position of artistic director, with a decision to be announced in the spring--so this petitioning is a not-so-subtle shove in the direction of helping establish WaterTower as a national force of innovation a la the space Addison Centre Theatre had commissioned in 1991. The program for Three Days of Rain proudly boasts that WaterTower is one of only three regional theaters in the country to have acquired the rights to Greenberg's dramatic comedy about two siblings and their frustrated relationship with deceased parents. Don't stop now! Leave me sore, sweaty, and sated with new work. I am apparently not the only insatiable theatergoer in the area--there was a full house for director Kathryn Long's nimble supervision of three attractive actors, each of whom plays two characters. The audience laughed at what seemed to be all the right moments, and heartily applauded. And just think! Three Days of Rain hasn't even been turned into a movie yet (apparently, the criterion WaterTower powers have designated for season selections).

Director Long is one of the finalists for the WaterTower post, and here she has helped her actors gain the kind of thorough understanding of their characters that someone once called "finding the zipper," or the key, to the role that opens it up and allows the performers to step inside. In this case, each performer must wear two suits: All play both a parent and his or her child. Act One happens in the mid-'90s to the grown kids, while Act Two takes place in the '60s to the kids' parents before they procreated. Jack O'Donnell plays both a son named Walker, an appropriately named wanderer with a temper, and, rewinding to the '60s, Walker's father Ned, a shy, stuttering architect who works as one-half of a design team with aggressive, creative Theo (Bill Jenkins). In the '90s, Jenkins also plays Theo's son Pip, a complacent soap-opera actor who's not as smart but rather more secure than his longtime friend Walker ("being in a good mood does not make you a moron"). The woman who has shared Walker's and Pip's lives in the '90s is Nan (Candace Evans), Walker's sister and Pip's former lover. In the '60s act, she plays Lena, Nan and Walker's boozy Southern mom.

Picking the players from this program is a bit like those week-in-review soap-opera columns, but suffice to say Three Days of Rain concerns the gap (in some cases, a veritable grand canyon) between the assumptions we make about our parents' motives and the real reasons for their life choices. This play has been touted as a mystery that unravels over the course of the evening, and like so many mysteries, it begins on the day that a father's will is to be read. But there is really no grand revelation or conclusion--at least, nothing that you haven't figured out by the beginning of the second act.

The pleasure of Three Days of Rain is the journey, or, specifically, the hosts for that journey. The show expertly renders these people's states of being, more so than it does the conflicts between them. Walker is agitated because he can't figure out why his father was so uncommunicative; the fact that Ned left his most famous and beautiful house to Pip, Theo's son, chaps him even more. Meanwhile, both Walker and Nan are haunted by the insanity of their mother, Lina, who's still alive in the '90s but in an incoherent state. The play's title refers to a terse diary entry written by Ned when he first became intimate with Lina. The second act is rendered in gorgeously somber light effects by Howell Binkley, with dark, glowing dapples outside the windows where Ned and Theo work.

WaterTower's Three Days of Rain is another instructive lesson in the art of casting--a graceful tango between actor and role. Jack O'Donnell is charming as both shy guy Ned and abrasive lost soul Walker, although he seems less showy, ironically, when he's playing Ned, whose part requires stammering, stuttering, and hand movements in the struggle to express himself. I must say, Candace Evans' heavy Suh-thuhn accent as Lina was a bit of a controversial choice. Couple this with Lina's much-discussed insanity, and we have to force memories of Blanche DuBois out of our heads during her opening lines. But because Evans drives the accent, not vice versa, she manages to summon a unique, unobtrusive characterization. Bill Jenkins has whittled callowness down to a hard, sharp shape as Pip, and he manages to reverse course and appear tempestuously talented as Theo, who is the self-proclaimed "genius" half of the "genius and taste" team that is Theo and Ned.

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