Thursday, January 28, 2016

Broadway Review—Linda Lavin in "Our Mother's Brief Affair"

Our Mother's Brief Affair
Written by Richard Greenberg; directed by Lynne Meadow
Performances through March 6, 2016
Gerald Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, New York, NY

Greg Keller and Linda Lavin in Our Mother's Brief Affair (photo: Joan Marcus)

For most of its first act, Richard Greenberg's new play Our Mother's Brief Affair ambles along uneventfully as it tells the story of Anna, the 70ish matriarch of a damaged Long Island family, and her two grown (and gay) children, Seth and Abby. Anna, who has been "dying" for years and is once again at death's door, breaks the news to her children that she had a brief but fulfilling affair long ago. 

Then comes a bizarre plot twist, yet another example of the shark-jumping that sometimes afflicts plays and movies around their halfway points: Seth and Abby walk to the front of the stage and explain to the audience just who the distinguished gentleman their mom fell for on a Central Park bench one day really is. 

A long and winding Cold War history lesson ensues, but the fallout for the family—Abby knew about an affair from their long-deceased father, while Seth had already felt betrayed upon discovering that Mom carried on her affair while he was unhappily studying the viola at Juilliard—is nothing compared to the fallout for the audience, as a relatively undistinguished dysfunctional-family comedy is overwhelmed by a plot reveal from out of the blue that sheds no light on either the family dynamic or the historical personages posthumously dragged into it.

As usual, Greenberg writes some amusing and facile dialogue (mainly shticky one-liners) that never digs as deeply into these relationships as it should; everything stays on the surface, so that none of these characters—not even the acid-tongued Anna, played with boisterous brio by Linda Lavin—comes to anything more than fleeting life. On Santo Loquasto's appropriately shape-shifting set, Lynne Meadow's staging still feels scattershot, hamstrung as it is by Greenberg's faulty dramatics, as if two completely separate plays were welded together in the most unwieldy fashion.

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