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1 Winner, 3 Losers
on January 1, 2008
If you are wondering what the work of Richard Greenberg is like, this volume is a very good place to start. Ranging from 1987-1998, these four plays give a reader an accurate idea of what Greenberg does. Unfortunately, it seems that what Greenberg does is write plays that leave a lot to be desired.
The volume starts with one of Greenberg's most well known plays, "Three Days of Rain". Sad to say, the piece just doesn't cut it. The characters and situations leave one aching for something worthwhile to read. There just isn't a lot at stake in the world of the play. A lot of the blame can be placed on the way the characters are written. The character whose presence looms largest over the play, Walker, is easily the biggest problem. Walker just isn't a likeable character at all. While a character certainly doesn't have to be likeable in order to be good, Walker is not unlikable in the "has no conscience/morals/feelings" sense of unlikable, but rather he's unlikable in the "annoying/selfish/always whining little brother" sense. While he creates havoc throughout the first act of the play, he simply grates on the reader. While the characters of Nan and Pip are less irksome than Walker, they also (to a lesser degree) have the same problem; namely, they are all extraordinarily privileged and yet spend 90% of their time whining about something or other. Nothing is ever truly at stake. None of these people ever have a chance of losing anything. Why should the average reader care about the woes of rich, well-educated, upper-crust New Yorkers? Average readers will find little to empathize with in this play.
While the second act of "Three Days of Rain" thankfully changes gears and illuminates some of the first act, it's a case of far too little, too late.
Next is what is easily the best play in the volume, "The American Plan", written in 1990. "The American Plan" is a simple, yet graceful and sad piece containing five characters who, unlike the characters of 3DOR, are interesting and conceivably realistic. The play starts off slowly and seems to be a little bit cliché, but it quickly grows on the reader as hidden complexities emerge. The play has moments of beauty and heartbreak and is also funny, well-written, and, most importantly, human.
The one-act piece "The Author's Voice" is essentially a one-joke premise that cannot be sustained in an interesting fashion for even a single act. While the core idea at the heart of the piece is sound, the initial jokey presentation sets up a tone that keeps the play from being taken seriously.
Rounding out the quartet of plays here is "Hurrah At Last", written in 1998. This play was written closely after 'Three Days of Rain' and it shows, as ideas and themes from that play reemerge in this one. Unfortunately, another thing taken from 3DOR is the presence of a totally loathsome main character. In this play, Greenberg's overly literary style totally overcomes the characters of his play and sends it collapsing like a house of cards. His characters absolutely refuse to sound like real people and their situations remain boring and unsympathetic.
It's sad that a playwright like Greenberg is constantly lauded and praised as being one of theater's top writers and yet his work is largely derivative of itself and never seems to be swinging for the fences.