Three Days Of Rain, the season opener at UND’s Burtness Theatre, is awash with emotion and tangled relationships as family secrets are explored (though not totally revealed) in this compelling and mostly satisfying drama. The play features a cast of three who start the first act as brother and sister, Walker (Brett J. Olson) and Nan (Emily Wirkus), and their childhood friend Pip (Nick McConnell), gathered together for the reading of Walker and Nan’s father’s will. Walker is as frenetic and scattered as Nan is tight-lipped and stoic, and there is some suggestion that Walker may have inherited his mother’s mental instability along with his father’s love of and talent for architecture. Pip, the son of Walker and Nan’s father’s late business partner, is eternally optimistic and creates an interesting contrast to the siblings whose lives have been in a constant state of chaos; the discovery of their father’s less-than-prosaic journal as well as Pip’s surprising inheritance cause the two to question everything they thought they knew about their family growing up and provides them with more questions than answers.
In the second act, the actors transform into the members of the previous generation: architects Ned (Olson) and Theo (McConnell) and the bubbly Lina (Wirkus) who floats between them, and whose sometimes unpredictable behavior only hints at the depth of her troubled nature. As we see the events that unfold over what Ned refers to in his journal as simply, “Three days of rain” the audience is able to see the beginning of the family legacy that has just been played out in the first act.
Although the acting is good throughout, all three actors seem to hit their stride in the second act and give their 1960s characters a certain dynamism that isn’t as easy to locate in their portrayals of the younger generation. This could have something to do with the script: the first act seems much more concerned with setting up the questions that are going to be answered in the second act and introducing the web of family relationships than it is with fully developing the characters, though Walker does share a confessional moment with his sister in which he earnestly tells her that he doesn’t want “to end up badly” that is poignant and touching. The second act has less foundational stumbling blocks as we already know who winds up with whom and how their relationships progress, through to the present day foibles and conflicts of their troubled children. There is more freedom for the characters to emerge and though the revelations in the second act are not particularly shocking, they are effective and well-played.
What the show seems to be missing is a commitment to a central idea. There are lots of themes explored and ideas that are entertained and pondered, but nothing that really solidifies. Walker’s erratic behavior and the fact that he has just reappeared again after a year’s disappearance in Italy, combined with memories from both Walker and Nan about their mother’s illness and a particularly shocking spectacle of self-harm, suggest that he may have inherited mental illness from his mother, but this suggestion never really amounts to anything – it certainly isn’t what the show is “about.” Neither is the show “about” the homosocial bonds between Walker and Phillip that are complicated by Nan’s affair with Phillip from years earlier (a triangle that is mirrored in Act 2 among Ned, Theo, and Lina). In essence, the show really doesn’t seem to be “about” anything; rather, like looking out the window on a rainy day, it’s a story that passes the time, providing brief and sometimes unexpected moments of beauty or vulnerability or human connection.
The technical aspects of the show are a delight including an indoor rainstorm that continues throughout most of the second act. The set is beautifully designed and executed, if a tiny bit spatially confusing, and the show fits perfectly into the basement lab theatre; the space feels deceptively large and yet retains a certain intimacy that draws you into the moment. The costumes are coherent, though I wished for more color or flair or…something for Lina’s presentation in Act 2 to separate her from the almost dour Nan (but then, I am a sucker for big, stylized period looks, something that would not blend easily into this slice of sentimental realism). Director Emily Cherry did a fine job crafting this theatrical experience; all in all, it was a couple of hours at the theatre that didn’t push me or challenge me in any great way but kept me solidly entertained and pulled on the old heartstrings just enough to feel oddly connected to this coterie of tangled, troubled characters.
The show plays through the end of the week, 7:30 pm in the basement of the Burtness Theatre. Tickets are $12 for adults; students receive a discount.
Tags: 3 Days of Rain, architecture, Brett Olson, Emily Cherry, Emily Wirkus, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, mentall illness, Miss Jaye, Nick McConnell, Richard Greenburg, theater, theatre, Three Days of Rain, UND Theatre Arts