By D. A. Blackburn
Three days of rain. Without context these words, strung together, elicit images of dreary, uneasy days spent indoors in gray-hued misery. But in the hands of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Richard Greenburg, they take on a new form – one of romance and melancholy, but passionate, love.
Stepping into the new Ringwald Theatre in Ferndale, and finding a seat among the stiff-backed chairs, it’s easy to forget that “Three Days of Rain” opened on Broadway with Julia Roberts as the sole woman in this magnificent three-person, six-role drama, but just minutes in, one can see why such a star would gravitate to the roles of Nan/Lina. She is a powerful force and the apex of all the work’s drama. She is the grounding factor in a story of larger-than-life characters, and the string that pulls the play together.
But it’s not on Nan/Lina that the work finds its stride. With such a small cast, and focus, it’s integral that all involved carry their own weight. Who Wants Cake’s new production, which runs through the end of July, embodies this ideal and succeeds for its simplicity.
The work is structured as two unique acts; the first in modern times, following the death of Ned Janeway, an architect of great renowned, and the second, set in 1960, within the hallows of the first act’s pretext. Initially, the audience meets Walker, son of the architect Ned, his sister, Nan, and the son of Ned’s late partner, Pip. They gather to divide the remnants of Ned’s legacy, and make peace with a life less than desirable. They are, simply put, the progeny of the 20th century’s most celebrated architect – a rock star among intellectuals – and a mother who, driven to the brink, killed their youngest sibling and found sanctuary in an asylum. Following Ned’s passing, they are left to sort through the baggage of lost youths, in search of truths which are both elusive and deceptive. Ned’s journal, discovered post-mortem, only serves to complicate and confuse.
The second act transports the audience back to New York, 1960, and the foreground of Greenburg’s tale. The play’s three performers are, likewise, transformed into their parents, and the work spins to unravel the realizations of the first act.
It’s a unique twist for a work which seems, initially, predictable and sad. The shift presents the audience with the truth, which is further from first act perceptions than one might expect. And, it also allows the audience to discover both the depth of the story’s characters, and the range of Who Wants Cake’s cast.
In switching roles, all three performers display their versatility as thespians, taking on nearly polar, but appropriate personas.
Without fail, Joe Bailey (Walker/Ned), Nathan Cavanaugh (Pip/Theo) and Jamie Warrow (Nan/Lina) deliver two unique and exceptional performances a piece. Most notably, Warrow, steps easily from reserved housewife to risque seductress, in a role requiring the self-confidence of an established star like Julia Roberts.
All are well served by the direction of Joe Plambeck and a creative team with a keen eye for minimalist, but sufficient designs. The work is a tremendously well-orchestrated production for a young company, and should cement Who Wants Cake as a worthy player among Detroit’s professional theater troupes.
‘Three Days of Rain’
Who Wants Cake? Theatre at The Ringwald Theatre, 22742 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Fri.-Mon., through July 30. Tickets: $10-$15. For information: 248-556-8581 or http://www.whowantscaketheatre.com.