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Play bubbles beneath surface

The ingenious structure of Three Days of Rain seeks to emulate the architectural plans of a landmark house, while invoking the tensions of two generations.

At the center of Three Days of Rain is a house, and not just any house but "one of the great private residences of the last half-century." It's Janeway House, a lunar-looking structure on Long Island, a landmark in modern architecture. When a photo of the house appeared in Life magazine in 1963, it put the young architectural firm that designed it, Wexler Janeway, on the map.

Richard Greenberg's play, now being given a handsome production by the Asolo Theatre, opens more than 30 years later, when the three children of the firm's founders meet in an unoccupied loft space in lower Manhattan.

Walker and Nan Janeway are getting together for the first time since their father died a year earlier. Nan (Tessie Hogan) is a happily married mother of two, while her younger brother, played by Jim Iorio, is a restless neurotic whose unresolved feelings toward his father have kept him from doing much with his life. There's tension between brother and sister because Walker responded to his father's death by vanishing on a sojourn to Italy.

They are soon joined by Pip, or Phillip O'Malley Wexler, son of their father's partner, Theo Wexler, who died long ago. Pip (Don Burroughs), a good-natured actor who plays a hunk on TV, is their best friend since childhood. The three are going to a lawyer's office for the reading of Ned Janeway's will, but first there is some truth telling about the past to get off their chests.

Three Days of Rain, whose excellent cast was directed by Brant L. Pope, is not a great play, but it's not as glib and superficial as it sometimes seems, either. The obligatory cataloging of New York trends is leavened with a droll sense of satire, as when Walker comes across what he figures could be the first retro wine and cheese bar while wandering the streets after a quarrel with Pip.

Greenberg, who also wrote Eastern Standard, has devised a sort of puzzle play. In the second act, the actors are transformed into Theo and Ned and Lina, a brittle Southern belle who seems like "something from Anais Nin," who later married Ned. This provides a window on what happened during three days of rain in April 1960, about the time when Janeway House was being conceived.

Walker believes a secret betrayal of some kind took place between his father and Theo, and he could be right, but it might be another betrayal than the one he imagines. Or it might be an entirely different story than the one he has pieced together from the enigmatic entries in his father's journal.

With its ingenious structure, Greenberg's play seeks to emulate a quality ascribed to the architectural plans for Janeway House. "There's an intuition held in reserve, a secret the architect keeps until the building is built," says Walker.

Three Days of Rain is a fully imagined portrait of a recognizable yet original set of characters that manages to suggest quite a lot going on beneath the surface of their bickering and banter.