The Annotated Script: ‘The American Plan’

When Richard Greenberg’s The American Plan premiered at Manhattan Theater Club, in 1990, it helped launch the career of a playwright who would later win the Tony for Take Me Out. For its Broadway debut (starring Mercedes Ruehl; in previews January 2), MTC asked Greenberg to update his script about a young woman desperate to escape the influence of her mother at a sixties Catskills resort. He found it surprisingly difficult, as he explains below in his annotation of pages 19 and 20; this is production stage manager Laurie Goldfeder’s copy, on which she’s marked Greenberg’s changes.

1. The Old Song
The Bobby Darin estate wouldn’t grant rights to “Beyond the Sea,” forcing Greenberg to search for another song: “In the seventeen years since I left the play, ‘Beyond the Sea’ went from being relatively unused to being ubiquitous, so I’m actually grateful. It wasn’t a cliché then, but at this point it would be.”

2. The New Song
“I Googled hits of 1959 and 1960. The song had to express one of two sides of Lili: either the desire to belong, which is really deep in her- and that’s what ‘Beyond the Sea’ did. Or the side that’s raunchy and outsiderish. ‘Thrill on the Hill’ did that. It felt more like the Sarah Lawrence girl who’s rejecting all that.”

3. The Borscht Belt
Did Greenberg experience that Catskills world? “Not a minute. I never did any time in Grossinger’s, or the Concord, or any of it. But I had aunts and uncles and parents who passed a good portion of their youth there, so I had the lore of it all around me. It was such a traveling ghetto.”

4. The Character Dynamics
In wooing Lili, Nick makes claims that aren’t backed up by reality. “Nick’s yearning to inhabit the shell he presents,” Greenberg says. “He’s trying to be what he seems.”

5. The Parallels
Does Greenberg see any parallels to that other Catskills girl-coming-of-age drama, Dirty Dancing “I’m friends with [screenwriter] Eleanor Bergstein, so I can’t say the identification has bothered me. In any event, it would be futile to try to put Baby in a corner.”

6. The Stubborn Script
Greenberg had expected to fix things that bothered him about this early work, but “the play’s been resistant. All the weeding I’ve done just gets reversed.” The alterations to the Bobby Darin lines are among the few changes in this production.

The Annotated Script: ‘The American Plan’