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By Merle Bertrand | June 9, 2006

There’s something artificially unnerving about an unrelenting rain storm, something that gradually soaks into your psyche as if the sometimes gently, sometimes not-so-gently raindrops have relentlessly filtered downwards until they’ve found the inevitable crack or seam, then take advantage of it to soggy-up your soul.

Freeform jazz can do the same thing; its not-quite melodies at first gently enticing the listener to warily tap his or her toe, then rasping off in a saxy, brassy cacophony of clashing sounds and juxtaposed rhythms that, frankly, just kinda piss me off.

Again, sort of like a good soaking. And both storms and serenades are at play here in director Michael Meredith’s simmering crock pot of an ensemble piece, “Three Days of Rain.”

Based on six similarly-themed stories by Anton Chekov, “Three Days…” unfolds on the canvas of a socked-in Cleveland, accompanied by the melancholy soundtrack of a jazz radio station whose DJ (Lyle Lovett) serves as a sort of poetic, one-man Greek Chorus.

And there are quiet little tragedies in abundance here. For instance, there’s John (ex-football great and current director’s pop, Don Meredith) who suffers through several lonely and gloomy nights driving his cab, even after learning that his son has just died days earlier. Not that any of his obnoxious fares give a damn. Indeed, if John’s experience is true, then cabbies, like bartenders and barbers, apparently exist only to hear other people’s problems, not share their own.

And speaking of sharing, that’s something that Jen (Maggie Walker) apparently isn’t very good at. Jen and her jovial and successful husband Alex (Erick Avari) are out for a night on the town, and all seems well with the elegant couple throughout dinner. But when a homeless war veteran asks them for food on their walk home, Jen coldly resists even Alex’ efforts to share their leftover chocolate mousse, sending the vet skulking off in the rain. Alex’ growing obsession with finding and helping the man soon competes with his growing disapproval of his selfish wife, leaving their relationship in a dangerous limbo.

There’s a lot to disapprove of when it comes to Waldo (Peter Falk). The problem is, the poor bastard is such a likable guy that you tend to forgive the fact that he’s also a hopeless, manipulative alcoholic who’s mooching off his enabling son Michael (Bill Stockton)…and anyone else he can seduce with his affably boozy charms.

Thunder (Michael Santoro) is a frustrated tile maker whose life is almost as simplistic and focused as Waldo’s desire for a drink. In fact, he wants only two things: for the rain to stop leaking into his apartment and ruining his clay tiles, and to get paid for his last job so that he can buy supplies for his next one, and avoid getting evicted in the process. Tired of dealing with the snotty assistant who’s running interference for has delinquent client, a fabulously wealthy but grief-stricken recent widow, Thunder shows up at her home and simply refuse to leave until he gets paid. Somehow.

Tess (Merle Kennedy), a struggling heroin addict, gets paid by babysitting for a wealthy judge and his wife. Not a bad gig, except that the judge expects her to perform services other than those having to do with child care…and the fact that her infant charge is, in fact, her own birth daughter.

Finally, there’s Dennis (Joey Bilow), a mentally-challenged railroad station janitor with a seemingly childlike innocence all his own. But when he realizes that he’s about to get railroaded out of his job to make room for his supervisor’s relative, Dennis’ revenge demonstrates that he’s got more on the ball than what meets the eye.

“Three Days of Rain” is another addition to the increasingly crowded field of interwoven ensemble pieces that seems to be all the rage in indie films these days. What primarily separates this haunting and memorable film from its peers, however, is its exquisite casting. It’s simply a pleasure watching these seasoned pros, a collection of recognizable faces, if not exactly household names, massage these characters and bring them and their stories to life.

Not as inter-connected as other similar films, “Three Days of Rain” lets its vignettes play out on their own, the characters completing these particular chapters in their lives while clearly facing more issues and intrigue ahead.

Director Meredith has crafted a poignant and evocative feature with this, his debut feature. Indeed, “Three Days of Rain” is just the kind of film that’s meant for a rainy day.

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