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In Arts & Entertainment Reviews

Nathanael Press and Rebecca Segal have the difficult task of playing dual roles: parents and children.

"Three Days of Rain" asks the hard questions


Richard Greenberg's incisive, emotionally-charged play "Three Days of Rain" asks that most terrifying of all questions: what do you really know about your parents?

It's a terrifying question because, as the play shows us, it has a double meaning. Whatever you know to be true about your parents directly corresponds to what you know to be true about yourself. In the end, how well do we know our own truth?

Staged by the plucky Carte Blanche Studio in their 75-seat Walker's Point theater, this incarnation of Greenberg's work was directed by Bo Johnson and stars Nathanael Press, Rebecca Segal and Matt Wickey.

In Act I, Press and Segal play Walker and Nan, the adult children of a recently-deceased architect whose legacy is a handful to deal with. Not only was he a cold and silent father, but the New York City skyline is dotted with his creations, and they cast a literal shadow over his children's lives.

Walker and Nan are gathering for the reading of their father's will, along with the son of his late business partner. Pip (Wickey) has a sunny outlook on life and an easy-going attitude that irritates them; they call him "torpid" and "a dunce" because he rejects the idea that to be authentic one must be unhappy.

Press, Segal and Wickey are impressive performers who transform the first act's sluggish plot into a captivating psychodrama. Walker is a charming and profoundly intelligent man-child - neurotic, self-obsessed, confused and hilarious. "Most of my money," says the compulsive wanderer who disappears for years at a time, "Is in travelers' checks."

Press wisely capitalizes on the emotional draw of this character, who knows so much, wants so much and yet is capable of so very little - capable of almost nothing, in fact, with the exception of loathing his father and blaming him for all his problems. He struts around the stage, he gestures wildly with his hands, he expounds, he yells, he cracks jokes - he fills up space, he kills time, which - we come to understand - is basically all Walker has ever known how to do.

Segal gives his older sister Nan a fastidious, almost rigid air of superiority - but shrewdly tempers it with a maternal obsessiveness that gives the character a nicely rounded-out personality. Walker has just returned from a year's abrupt disappearance; Nan thought he was dead and had to bury their father alone. She is angry with him and appalled at his decision to squat in the drab, unfurnished loft that once belonged to their father and his partner at the beginning of their careers. She is at once judgmental of and addicted to her brother's chaos.

Pip is the most sympathetic of the characters, and Wickey gives him an easy approachability - the audience connects with his Regular Joe smile and views the more complicated characters through his relatable frustration with them.

The trio nicely fill out a complicated, rather deviant love triangle. Pip and Nan had an adolescent fling that still echoes in their glances and fills up the silent spots in their conversations. Described by his sister as "sexually fluid," Walker has always had a yearning for Pip that contrasts (or in some ways goes hand-in-hand with) his distaste for the latter's "simplicity."

Press, Segal and Wickey bring the thicket-like relationship between their characters to the forefront in a brilliantly-acted scene where Pip tries to explain why he thinks the myth of Oedipus "doesn't make sense." The tension comes to a head when they discover that Nan and Walker's father left his most famous creation - a visionary house for his parents on Long Island - to Pip instead of his children.

Act II sees the return of the same actors in the roles of their respective "parents" 35 years earlier, as they struggle to design the house that will be the young trio's inheritance. It's an amusing trick and the audience gets a real kick out of it.

Wickey is now the swaggering, dominating Theo. Segal lets her hair down and plays Nan and Walker's mother, Lina, as a despairing seductress with a Southern accent. Press does a complete about-face to become Walker's "distant" father, Ned - a shy, stuttering man unsure of his abilities.

But think, for a moment, what it requires of an actor to play both a parent and a child. Imagine getting into the headspace of Walker, who loathes his father because he cannot understand him, when you know that in an hour you are going to be in the headspace of that father, whose life is crippled by the fact that he cannot explain himself to the world?

It's an amazing feat and all three actors accomplish it handily. They are able to completely divorce their own personal understanding of the parents from their performances of the children.

I won't go into the details of the second act because this is where the tension really gathers momentum, and it's more impressive if it all comes as a surprise. We've heard The Kids' version of events, and now we get to see what really happened. We get to see Ned, Lina and Theo build the empty spaces - literally and figuratively - that Walker, Nan and Pip struggle to inhabit. We end with the beginning.

I'm going to give Carte Blanche's "Three Days of Rain" what, I think, is the greatest compliment a theatrical production can receive: it's entertaining, but it makes the audience look inward. It makes them to look their own parents, their own children and their own lives. It's worth the price of admission, and then some.

"Three Days of Rain" runs until Jan. 27.


Talkbacks

Donna | Jan. 22, 2013 at 4:34 p.m. (report)

My husband and I and our grown daughter and son in law, who were in from West Salem Wisconsin saw it last Sunday and were all blown away by the performances of the three actors in this production of "Three Days of Rain". It was rivoting and powerful and we went away from the theatre impressed with the entire piece. In my mind, it is a must to see, to bad it was the best kept secret in Milwaukee..............it should have been advertised and brought to the theatre goers of Milwaukee.

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