Not everything Hollywood does to the theater is evil. Clearly, one reason Julia Roberts is a success is that she and the people handling her career know what they’re doing. When they felt she needed the credibility of the legitimate stage, they picked a play worth doing, cast the remaining parts well, if Hollywoodishly, and mounted a reputable production. They certainly knew what they were doing financially: The entire run sold out before Three Days of Rain went into rehearsal. And those who paid the steep ticket prices now have the chance not only to enjoy Roberts in three dimensions, but also to be stirred by Richard Greenberg’s handsome, thought-provoking drama. Trust me, if Broadway could manage its own affairs this intelligently, Hollywood conglomerates wouldn’t be taking over.
Trickily structured, a heartfelt jigsaw puzzle of a play, Three Days of Rain tells the story of two young architects, the woman they both love, and the three screwed-up children of their respective marriages, who, in a first act that takes place 35 years after Act II, try to sort out the relationship rubble their parents left behind. Once assembled, the puzzle reveals a banquet of multiple meanings, the angular eccentricity of its pieces suddenly suffused with compassion for the innumerable ways we fail each other in life.
Under Joe Mantello’s direction, Roberts and her colleagues, Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper, move efficiently, if unmemorably, through these subtly interlocking fragments. Everything looks right; the play’s rhythm is caught, its elegiac undertow palpable. Nothing’s blatantly wrong, but some extra dimension seems lacking. Roberts, low-key and tentative, hasn’t yet learned how to “project” emotionally onstage. What did you expect? She’s a beginner. Of the trio, only Rudd, in the second half, hits a vein of feeling that matches the play’s bigness. I miss the cast of Evan Yionoulis’s Obie-winning 1997 production—Patricia Clarkson, John Slattery, and Bradley Whitford—more than I can say. But Roberts and company may yet grow into their roles; meantime, there’s a genuine, valuable, serious play on Broadway, playing to sold-out houses. Why crab about that?