THREE DAYS OF RAIN, Frump Tucker Theatre Company, at the Viaduct Theater, and THE AUTHOR’S VOICE, Open Eye Productions, at the Theatre Building. Few people can blend comedy with drama as artfully as American playwright Richard Greenberg, who’s best known for his 80s antiyuppie hit Eastern Standard. Even the most serious moments in the more serious of these two plays, Three Days of Rain, about a pair of brilliant architects and their children, has potentially comic tensions: the braggart is really an unconscious plagiarist, and the chatterbox becomes romantically entwined with the pathologically quiet, stuttering partner of the firm, who ends up delivering the most eloquent speech in the play. Greenberg consistently delivers moments of such resonant beauty and dramatic power that it’s easy to forget how funny he was just a few minutes before.
But there’s a trap: you need actors with range and depth to unlock the power in his words. This is especially true of Three Days of Rain, because each actor in this three-person play is asked to play two roles–the parents in one act that’s set in 1960 and the children in another act that’s set 35 years later. In this revival, director Richard Shavzin’s two male actors knock the roof off. Travis Estes is particularly terrific as the hip, socially confident architect father and as his hip, confident TV-star son. But Laura Wells gets it wrong from the get-go, coming out too strong and then playing the same loud, annoying note as both the stable, suburbanized daughter and her unstable, southern-belle mom; she misses all of the subtlety in her roles and unbalances what is otherwise an affecting production of one of Greenberg’s finer plays.
In contrast, The Author’s Voice is a gimmicky little one-act about a pretty-boy, media-darling writer who secretly depends on a gnarled little gnome for all his material. There isn’t much to this updating of “Rumpelstiltskin,” but there’s more than director Kevin Gladish and his three-person cast have found. None of the three is able to play both Greenberg’s funny bits and his serious ones. Mike McNamara and Noah Simon, playing writer and gnome respectively, do nicely with the play’s comic notes but stumble when Greenberg turns serious. Maura Pheney as the shallow, trendoid New York editor does all right playing it straight, but when she needs to win laughs she can’t. The result is a production that’s never quite hilarious enough or moving enough to justify itself.