The lights are dim, baby. The star power that is Julia Roberts doesn't shine as bright on Broadway as it does on the big screen.
The difference is noticeably visible on the stage of the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, where Roberts opened Wednesday in a lopsided revival of Richard Greenberg's "Three Days of Rain."
Roberts, who co-stars with Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper, gives a small, modest performance that throws off the delicate equilibrium of Greenberg's thoughtful, carefully calibrated play, a two-generational love triangle.
The personality - appealing, vulnerable and sometimes quirky - that often defines Roberts in film is missing here. In "Rain," she delivers cautious, bland portraits of two women: a reserved, emotionally controlled daughter in the first act and the woman's spirited, high-strung mother, 35 years earlier, in the second.
Greenberg's play, first seen nearly 10 years ago at California's South Coast Rep and then off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club, juggles a lot of themes, although it deals mainly with the relationships between children and their parents.
Act 1 takes place in 1995 in a long-empty downtown loft where Walker and his sister, Nan, are meeting good friend Pip. The threesome are the children of two famous architects, both dead. What's brought them together is the reading of a will, a document guaranteed to bring out tensions in the best of people. And, of course, there is a surprise once that task is completed.
Greenberg, author of the Tony-winning "Take Me Out," has created a parade of vibrant characters, and both Rudd and Cooper make the most of them, particularly in the exposition-heavy first act. Rudd portrays Walker, a precocious, sexually ambiguous man, given to impulse and more than a little anger about his cold, distant father. He's a likable actor, even when playing cranky, talkative and sardonic, which pretty much defines his role.
Pip, the son of the second architect, is one of Greenberg's most genial creations. A soap-opera actor, he thrives on the realization that he is not special. Pip is an ordinary man and proud of it. Cooper portrays him with disarming intensity and clearly wins the sweepstakes as the audience's onstage favorite.
Which brings us to Roberts, who in Act 1 has to play reactive to the emotional declarations of her two co-stars. It's difficult to pull off, although Patricia Clarkson, who originated the role of Nan a decade ago, knew how to make the part's minimalist responses define her character. Roberts hasn't developed those nuances yet,
It's Walker who discovers his father's journal in the loft and from it hopes to learn more about his parents. But the diary's entries are cryptic to say the least, particularly its first jottings: "April 3 to April 5, three days of rain."
The second act takes us back to 1960 to those rainy days, and what actually happened.
It's a tantalizing way to link parent and child and lets the actors display their skills at playing a second set of characters. The two architects are shown just before they become famous, talent waiting to bud. And there is the woman, eventually the mother of Walker and Nan, who marries one of them.
Roberts' portrayal of the mother - flighty, volatile and edging into alcoholism (the woman is described by her son as "Zelda Fitzgerald's less stable sister") - is hampered by surface mannerisms, particularly a shaky Southern accent.
But Rudd gets to show another side of talent, with his portrait of a gentle, stammering man, much different from what his son, Walker, remembers. And Cooper captures Pip's intense, insecure father with ease.
Watching what they are and how their children perceive them years later is one of the joys of "Three Days of Rain." Greenberg's play, directed by Joe Mantello, is a lovely celebration of the passage of time - how the present tries to make sense of the past, usually by misconstruing it.
And, yes, rain does fall on designer Santo Loquasto's set, ghostly and debris-strewn in Act 1 and filled with bright promise after intermission. After all, this is a memory play told in reverse, when the consequences of what came before already are sadly known,
It's a much more memorable image than Roberts' Broadway debut.
Hated the play. To be sadly honest, even hated her. At least I liked the rain -even if three days of it can seem an eternity.
Why, for heaven's sake, did Julia Roberts, film star extraordinary and box-office attraction incredible, decide to make her professional stage debut at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in last night's half-baked, fully drenched revival of Richard Greenberg's 1997 play, "Three Days of Rain"?
The whole magic world of the theater was wide open to the Midas touch of Roberts' enormous fan appeal. And, I should have thought, her talent. Possibly, I was wrong on the latter count.
Certainly "Three Days of Rain" was by no means a smart choice - especially when you get upstaged in the first act by your two furiously overacting male co-stars (Bradley Cooper and Paul Rudd) and in the second by a rainstorm that's easily the most realistic aspect of the evening.
Greenberg's play, especially on this second visitation, seems wafer-thin. With its corny soliloquies coyly offered to the audience through the fourth wall, and its smart-aleck dialogue skidding along as pleased as punch with its own-phony cleverness, it seems extraordinary that it was ever thought Broadway material.
Still, here it was. A young man named Walker (Rudd), unkempt and clearly disturbed, and his sensible, married sister, Nan (Roberts), meet up with their childhood friend Pip (Cooper), ostensibly to settle up and, even more, discuss, the legacy of their two fathers, famous architects and partners.
That's the first act. The second is an extended flashback, with the men playing their own fathers, and Roberts playing the charming, yet potentially loco, woman in their lives.
The play's one point of mystery, in the first act, is the questionable bequest of a house. The second act merely makes that bequest more, rather than less, inexplicable. Was the playwright asleep when he wrote it?
In any event, the badly plotted, barely plotted play - staged as tautly as a slack rope by Joe Mantello - proves a rickety vehicle for Roberts.
Her film-star brother, Eric Roberts (whatever happened to him?), chose far more wisely, years back, with Lanford Wilson's "Burn This."
"Three Days of Rain" was, for his sister at least, more a case of "burn that!"
In the first act, she looked long-faced, long-nosed and almost ordinary. How come? In her movies, do they use magic cameras on her or something?
She's allowed to cheer up a bit in the second act. Her voice projection still isn't great, but she smiles, laughs, grins and even shows glints of the Julia Roberts, that feisty movie identity we all love.
As for the men, they, perhaps urged on by some frantic act of overcompensation for their co-star, either prompted or permitted by the director, rush through the play as if they are nervous it is going to end before they do.
Really, the only nice things I can say about the evening are to praise the wonderfully atmospheric sets and costumes by the always brilliant Santo Loquasto, the lighting by Paul Gallo, and the "rain" - yes, all three days of it are actually credited as such on the playbill - by Jauchem & Meeh.
If ever I feel the need for rain, I'll know exactly where to go,
I understand that it's virtually impossible to buy tickets for the 12-week limited run, although it seems there may be some "premium" seats available at $251.25, which I presume includes tax.
Don't feel bad about it if you can't get in. Count your blessings
In Richard Greenberg's "Three Days of Rain," the existential enigmas and conundrums of faith that always pepper this playwright's work assume a tantalizingly dichotomous form that. ... Excuse me, I was talking. What? How is she? How's who? Oh, her. O.K., if you must know, she's stiff with self-consciousness (especially in the first act), only glancingly acquainted with the two characters she plays and so deeply, disturbingly beautiful that you don't want to let her out of your sight. Now can we go back to discussing Mr. Greenberg's play?
Fat chance. One of the three stars of the Broadway revival of "Three Days of Rain," which opened last night at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater, is Julia Roberts, who is making her big-time theatrical debut. And though Ms. Roberts gives a genuinely humble performance, there is no way that this show is not going to be all about Julia.
Ms. Roberts is the sole reason this limited-run revival, which ends on June 18, has become the most coveted ticket in town. Mr. Greenberg's slender, elegant play from 1997 about familial disconnectedness and the loneliness of intimacy has certainly never known — and probably will never know again — such fame and fortune. On the other hand, it's almost impossible to discern its artistic virtues from this wooden and splintered interpretation, directed by Joe Mantello and also starring (poor, luckless lunkheads) Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper.
The only emotion that this production generates arises not from any interaction onstage, but from the relationship between Ms. Roberts and her fans. And before we go any further, I feel a strong need to confess something: My name is Ben, and I am a Juliaholic. Ms. Roberts, after all, is one of the few real movie stars — and I mean Movie Stars, like the kind MGM used to mint in the 1930's — to have come out of Hollywood in the last several decades.
Lord knows, she isn't a versatile film actress in the style of her rivals from abroad, Nicole and Kate and Cate. Her range onscreen runs from feisty but vulnerable ("Pretty Woman," "Erin Brockovich") to vulnerable but feisty ("Sleeping With the Enemy," "Closer"). Her strength, as far as her public is concerned, is in her sameness, which magnifies everyday human traits to a level of radioactive intensity, and a feral beauty that is too unusual to be called pretty.
Like a down-home Garbo, she is an Everywoman who looks like nobody else. And while I blush to admit it, she is one of the few celebrities who occasionally show up (to my great annoyance) in cameo roles in my dreams.
This probably accounts for my feeling so nervous when I arrived at the theater, as if a relative or a close friend were about to do something foolish in public. I don't think I was the only one who felt that way in the audience, which had the highest proportion of young women (from teenagers to those in their early 40's) of any show I've attended. There was a precurtain tension in the house that had little of the schadenfreude commonly evoked by big celebrities testing their stage legs. We all wanted our Julia to do well.
That she does not do well — at least not by any conventional standards of theatrical art — is unlikely to lose Ms. Roberts any fans, though it definitely won't win her any new ones among drama snobs. Your heart goes out to her when she makes her entrance in the first act and freezes with the unyielding stiffness of an industrial lamppost, as if to move too much might invite falling.
Sometimes she plants one hand on a hip, then varies the pose by doing the same on the other side. Her voice is strangled, abrupt and often hard to hear. She has the tenseness of a woman who might break into pieces at any second.
Unfortunately it's in the second act that Ms. Roberts plays the character who is always on the verge of a breakdown, and in this part she's comparatively relaxed, perhaps because she has a slipping Southern accent to hide behind. In the first act she's supposed to be the normal one.
I suppose I had better give you some plot here. (Fellow Juliaholics can skip this part if they like.) In the first act of "Three Days of Rain," set in 1995, the hopelessly neurotic ne'er-do-well, Walker (Mr. Rudd); his disapproving and domestic sister, Nan (Ms. Roberts); and their longtime friend, Pip (Mr. Cooper), a perky golden-boy actor, come together for the reading of the will of Walker and Nan's father, an architect of legendary status whose partner was the now long-deceased father of Pip.
In the second act, which takes place in 1960, the same performers play the parents of their first-act characters: Ned (Mr. Rudd), the quiet one (and father-to-be to Nan and Walker), and Lina (Ms. Roberts), a mad and madcap Zelda Fitzgerald type, who when we meet her is going out with Theo (Mr. Cooper), a perky golden-boy architect. Both acts are set in a loft in downtown Manhattan, the apartment shared in 1960 by Theo and Ned. (Santo Loquasto's set, enhanced by a nifty stage-wetting rainstorm, has spot-on authenticity; his costumes for Ms. Roberts don't really match her roles, but then neither does she.)
All the characters in "Three Days of Rain" are analytical, acutely literary types, given to academic name-dropping and the sort of lyrical, brittle and purely theatrical speech that is Mr. Greenberg's signature. For the play to cast its spell (and having seen it in 1997 at the Manhattan Theater Club, I know that it can cast a spell), the language must flow like music: sometimes like nervous jazz, sometimes like Puccini-esque rhapsody. Sad to say, this production never lifts its voice in song.
Mr. Rudd, who has the most stage experience of the ensemble ("Bash," "Twelfth Night"), comes closest to making music, but in a dispassionate, generic, drama-school-trained way. Mr. Cooper (of the television series "Alias" and "Kitchen Confidential") is alternately perky and indignant in the manner of a sitcom actor doing testy and aggrieved. And Ms. Roberts often gives the impression that she is parsing her lines, leaving lots of dead air between fragments.
And yet, and yet. I found myself fascinated by the way her facial structure (ah, those cheekbones!) seems to change according to how the light hits her. In repose, her face seems impossibly, hauntingly eloquent. She has a scene — all right, a few seconds — of flirtation with Mr. Rudd in the second act that is absolutely charming. And on the few occasions when she smiles, it's with a sunniness that could dispel even 40 days and 40 nights of rain. None of this, for the record, in any way illuminates her characters or Mr. Greenberg's play.
It's a shame, in a way, that this play and this theater were chosen as the vehicle for Ms. Roberts's Broadway debut. In a smaller, Off Broadway house, she wouldn't have to worry about projecting and could perhaps relax a bit. (She never seems to know what to do with her body.) And she really should be playing a romantic heroine, of the imperiled or comic variety. Her parts in "Three Days of Rain" are essentially character parts, and Ms. Roberts is not a character actress.
In his opening soliloquy Mr. Rudd's Walker speaks of a famous house designed by his father, immortalized by a photograph in Life magazine. "People have sometimes declined my invitation to see the real place for fear of ruining the experience of the photograph," he says. Some movie fans may have the same fear about seeing Ms. Roberts in the flesh. They shouldn't. She looks every inch the magnetic (if theatrically challenged) movie star. Fans of Mr. Greenberg, on the other hand, should definitely stay home.
In her Broadway debut, Julia forsakes her Hollywood image and offers a lean, smart portrayal in 'Three Days of Rain'
Don't look for the dental wattage. Don't expect a glamourpuss. Julia Roberts gives a lean, intelligent, altogether honorable performance in "Three Days of Rain," the lean, intelligent, entirely engrossing drama that opened Wednesday night at the Jacobs Theatre.
What a smart cookie she must be, this maturing personification of hot-property Hollywood in her breathlessly awaited stage debut. She is not vrooming onto Broadway in a souped-up star vehicle or rattling around in a classic three sizes too big for her technique.
Instead, she has nestled into the protective custody of playwright Richard Greenberg and director Joe Mantello, two of the theater's most seriously adventurous talents. And the play, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 that was not seen by many in its Off-Broadway premiere, offers enticements for both the connoisseurs and the stargazers.
Structurally, this is two plays: one set in 1995, one in 1960. Both are small, both beautifully written, both set in the same vaulting loft space in downtown Manhattan. In the first half, the three grown children of celebrated architects reunite before meeting an estate lawyer to learn what the father of two of them left in his will. The second part reveals just how hard - no, impossible - it is for any of us to know our true family legacy.
Thus, the three actors each play two roles in this character-driven urban mystery - first adult children and then their parents during a crucial time in their young lives, the "three days of rain" described in the recently deceased architect's mysterious journal.
Roberts first appears as Nan, the worried sister of a restless fellow whose name, Walker, is no accident. Very thin, tightly wound in a trenchcoat, her hair long in unremarkable mousy-brown waves, Nan has the wary, weary, almost brittle look of a woman who has mothered her disappearing brother for too long.
Roberts gets to let loose in the second act as the siblings' mother, Lina, a warm, flamboyant, possibly unbalanced Southern woman perceived by Walker as "sort of Zelda Fitzgerald's less stable sister." Although the actress doesn't transform into an emotional buzzsaw the way Patricia Clarkson did so magnificently eight years ago, Roberts has the gift of being able to seem grave and bright at the same time. Even at her most uncomfortable - when she doesn't quite know what to do with her hands - she has a stillness, an alertness that suggests that someone is in there listening.
With Paul Rudd as Walker, the listening is very good indeed. Rudd has a floppy, lost-boy charisma, which he can switch off when Walker's darkness pulls him inward. In the second act, Rudd has an almost agonizing stutter as Ned, the father his children dismiss as hard and uncommunicative. Bradley Cooper has just the right endearing bravado for Pip, the well-adjusted son of Ned's late partner, and a chilling selfish streak as Theo, the partner believed to have had the genius.
The kids are fast-talking, articulate, privileged people with strong faces and the tendency to make witty but wounded proclamations directly to the audience. They live the action and tell us about it. Their parents, coming perhaps from a less self-conscious time, merely blunder though it.
But what can the children know? Walker finds his father's diary, but the terse "astonishingly flat" words merely make him resent his father more than he already does. Pip, a soap-opera actor with a defiant enjoyment of his own happy pragmatism, will never know what we learn about the rainy night his mother met his father.
Mantello, who won a Tony Award for his production of Greenberg's "Take Me Out," doesn't quite manage to keep the play from feeling smaller than it seemed on a more intimate stage. Santo Loquasto's sets and costumes consciously choose the everyday over the elevated look of a jazzed-up Broadway show.
Ultimately, admirably, the real news is not a certain movie star. The play, which once eloquently announced Greenberg as a major mature voice in the theater, does so again.
I never imagined I would express concern for a woman who, in one of her more recent films, was paid an eight-figure salary to kiss Jude Law. But honestly, I felt nervous for Julia Roberts Monday night.
It was, after all, the first critics' preview for Three Days Of Rain (* * * out of four), the movie star's much-ballyhooed Broadway debut. I knew that Roberts wouldn't fall on her face; living Hollywood legends generally don't do that sort of thing. The question was, would the pretty woman truly hold her own in Richard Greenberg's poignant drama?
Would she make the sort of distinctive impression that Patricia Clarkson did, by all accounts, in Rain's off-Broadway run nearly a decade ago?
Having not seen that production, I can't compare Roberts' performance to Clarkson's.
But in the new Rain, which opened Wednesday at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, Roberts does hold her own with two guys who have more stage experience: the young stage and screen veteran Paul Rudd and the theatrically trained rising film actor Bradley Cooper.
It's a credit to all three stars and director Joe Mantello that this Rain is a study in graceful, generous ensemble acting. In the first act, Roberts and Rudd play Nan and Walker, grown siblings confronting their past and future after the death of their father, Ned, a noted architect. Cooper is cast as Pip, their blithe childhood friend, whose dad, Theo, was Ned's business partner.
The lingering scars and conflicts that emerge are fleshed out in the second act, which takes place 35 years earlier. Here Rudd and Cooper appear as the young Ned and Theo, and Roberts plays Lina, the feisty but troubled Southern woman who will marry Ned and mother Nan and Walker.
A skeptic might suggest that Roberts' roles naturally accommodate the Broadway newcomer's strengths and potential weaknesses. Nan, the mother of two young children, is called on to seem worried and ill at ease much of the time; Roberts' sometimes abrupt reactions and the way she keeps cupping her hands together could be construed as classic signs of inexperience on stage, except that they happen to be true to character.
Similarly, Lina's Southern accent becomes more pronounced at certain times, particularly when she grows buoyant after knocking back some drinks. But I've gleaned that many regional accents become more pronounced after a few cocktails.
In the end, Roberts makes both women credible, compelling and sweetly funny. And she manages a tender chemistry with each of her co-stars; Lina's scenes with Rudd's heartbreakingly awkward Ned are especially endearing.
Whether the star of Erin Brockovich is ready for, say, Medea remains to be seen. But I'm not sure a new mom would be eager to tackle that golden oldie anyway.
Considering all the noise surrounding the theatrical debut of the world's biggest female movie star -- saturation media coverage, box office frenzy, fans mobbing the stage door -- what's most remarkable about Julia Roberts' appearance in "Three Days of Rain" is how low-key it is. Rather than choose a showy vehicle for her Broadway bow, the actress with the mile-wide smile has opted for a quiet three-hander, mostly conceding the spotlight to the more nuanced characters played by her male co-stars. But Richard Greenberg's 1997 play is not entirely well served by Roberts or vice versa.
What Roberts brings is irrefutable evidence of what makes her a star. Even in some unflattering costumes, onstage as much as onscreen, you can't take your eyes off her -- the infectious warmth, the radiant grin that erupts out of seriousness and goes on forever, the vulnerability, the disarming physical mix of awkwardness and poise. Those qualities are what most ticket buyers for the sellout 12-week engagement are paying to see. But even the most blinding charisma can't quite substitute for texture. Ultimately, Roberts is unable to flesh out the indistinct contours of an unsatisfyingly written role.
Greenberg's play is an odd duck -- intimate yet emotionally distant and without a resonating payoff. An artful reflection on how parents and children misunderstand one another, it explores how relationship patterns and personality imprints are echoed, sketching refracted mirror images of the three points of a triangle over two generations.
Even in Greenberg's more problematic works like "The Violet Hour," the gracefulness of his writing, its uncommon erudition and wit, couple the joyful musicality of speech with intellectual cleverness in a way few other contemporary playwrights can touch. But while it's admirable that "Three Days of Rain" avoids tidy conclusions, there's also something frustrating about Greenberg's refusal to fill in the emotional blanks.
The mega-wattage of Joe Mantello's sleek production -- with its high-profile star, gorgeous design and lighting and movie-ish interstitial music -- exposes the play's fragility.
Santo Loquasto has fashioned a breathtaking downtown Manhattan loft space, with battered walls and enormous, grimy windows filtering soft light from the noisy street outside. In the first act, set in 1995, the loft is occupied by Walker (Paul Rudd), the troubled son of celebrated architect Ned Janeway. Recently returned from going AWOL for a year and missing his father's funeral, Walker is joined by his married sister Nan (Roberts) for the reading of the will, along with Pip (Bradley Cooper), the soap-star son of Ned's former partner, Theo Wexler.
Much of the conflict swirls around the legacy of Janeway House, an iconic Long Island building that the unsettled Walker hopes will finally provide him with a home. But the building is left to Pip, freshening Walker's resentment toward his father, whose uncommunicative nature is revealed in a recently discovered journal. Significant personal events such as Theo's terminal illness are dealt with in terse entries; most maddening is the cryptic notation "three days of rain."
Looking initially uncomfortable as the more uptight of her two characters, Roberts figures as a wry observer, wrestling with conflicted feelings of responsibility and anger toward Walker. Rudd bristles with the nervous energy and defensive hostility of a manic-depressive yet remains sympathetic. And Cooper, whose primary credits are in TV and film, has a real magnetic spark onstage, making much of Pip's self-deprecating assessments of his acting talent, his intellect and his unrelenting cheeriness.
With a mix of dialogue exchanges and direct address from each of the three hyperarticulate characters, act one establishes their received wisdom about their parents. Walker and Nan's mother is deeply unbalanced ("She's sort of like Zelda Fitzgerald's less stable sister"); their parents married "because by 1960 they had reached a certain age and they were the last ones left in the room"; and Theo was considered the genius, responsible for putting the architectural partnership on the map.
Rewinding to 1960, with the same derelict space now warmly inhabited, act two sets about revising those notions in ways that Walker, Nan and Pip will never grasp, showing also how their parents' secrecy and failure to communicate has burdened them.
Roberts now plays Lina, a Southern belle who invites complications in her bumpy relationship with Theo (Cooper) and seems taken aback by the unexpected ease of it when she falls into romance with stuttering, reticent Ned (Rudd) during the aforementioned prolonged downpour.
The rich atmospheric effect of the rain beating down outside the windows, on the fire escape and across the downstage area as Theo wanders the streets (fittingly, there's a rain credit in the Playbill) helps pull the audience into the play -- even as Greenberg's writing remains elliptical and Mantello's direction fails to coax sufficient subtext from the cast.
Part of the problem is a basic imbalance among the characters. Greenberg is far more invested in the relationship between the two men -- in Ned's feelings of unworthiness for having taken Theo's girl and being the creative force behind their defining project -- than in Lina. Even when Theo is offstage in the second act, he still drives most of the action.
Rudd is an accomplished stage actor given plenty to work with. He creates two distinct characters out of Walker and Ned both emotionally and physically -- the former messy and volatile, the latter neat and cautious. Cooper negotiates subtle shifts to show the insecurities and frustrations eating away at an ambitious, seemingly confident man.
While we see evidence she was an early drinker and hear her describe waking most days in a "brown study," Lina seems too unencumbered to make her outcome plausible; the seeds of her madness are not adequately planted. In a role originated by Patricia Clarkson, Roberts has poignant moments but her inconsistent Southern accent only adds to a nagging shortage of depth in the approach to the character of actress, playwright and director. She's a beguiling but opaque presence where an insightful character study is required.