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NY Theater Reviews

Kieran Campion and Lilly Rabe/Ph: Sara Krulwich

TALKING CURE

By JESSICA BRANCH

There's ravenous hunger afoot and not all of it can be sated by the three square meals of the title.

The eponymous plan of the title is the three square meals and then some provided by the 1960 Catskills hotel across the lake from the summer house of wealthy German Jewish emigré Eva Adler (Mercedes Ruehl) and her fragile, tart-tongued daughter Lili (Lily Rabe). And indeed, the overriding motive of the play's central characters seems to be a ruthless desire to get the kind of sustenance they need. For lovely, neurotic Lili, it's love-and an allegiance to her rather than her mother- for her cleancut WASPy beau from across the lake, Nick (Kieran Campion), it looks disturbingly like money, though love may play into it, too. And for the inscrutable Eva, not-so-affectionately known as "The Duchess," it may be her daughter's happiness-or perhaps just her continued dependence.

Directed by David Grindley (Journey's End), this revival of Richard Greenberg's 1990 play benefits from a smart pacing that understands the playwright's use of its characters' hyperarticulacy as itself a form of action as the characters cross and doublecross one another as they seek to feed their appetites. Lili, whom Rabe plays with a giddy winsomeness that's barely undercut by flashes of bitter, desperate wit, may or may not be making up her elaborate stories about her mother's monstrousness-but she's the one who spreads the rumor to Nick's fiancee that Nick has the clap. Eva's accented English belies her mastery of the vernacular, particularly when it comes to cool connivance: The more she confides in her daughter's suitor the less he-or we-knows what to believe. As for Nick himself, in whom Lili sees her white knight riding to her rescue, his open face and happy manner disguise a host of deal-breaking secrets.

Ruehl turns in a bravura performance, both charming and chilling as the matriarch who has accepted that happiness is too much to hope for. And Rabe, who's been overly mannered in other plays, dazzles as the self-styled poor little rich girl, who may possess more of her mother's steel than she lets on. Also worthy of note is the Adlers' maid cum companion, the long-suffering Olivia Shaw, whose inscrutable reserve Brenda Pressly plays with dry humor. The witness of so much ravenous hunger, she's the only one who keeps her own desires successfully under wraps-so she may be the real winner in the end.