Written by Richard Greenberg; Directed by Lynne Meadow
Produced by Manhattan Theatre Club
Broadway, New Play
Runs through 3.1.16
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street
by Zak Risinger on 2.16.16
Linda Lavin in Our Mother's Brief Affair
BOTTOM LINE: Go to see Linda Lavin give an extraordinary performance in a fairly ordinary play.
All of the publicity for Manhattan Theatre Club's new production of Richard Greenberg's Our Mother's Brief Affair features Broadway mainstay Linda Lavin coyly seated on a park bench with autumnal leaves whimsically swirling around her. For those readers not familiar with Linda Lavin, she is a two-time Golden Glob recipient, Tony Award winner, and six-time Tony nominee, who also appeared for 9 seasons on the sitcom Alice. She is the real deal. I assume the marketing team thought this representation of the play was enough to get the masses into the theatre to see this intimate new play, and for the most part they were right: however, most of those masses, at least at the performance I attended, were of a certain age—let's say a generation that fondly remembers Lavin from the Alice years of the late 1970s. Much of this play takes in that same decade.
Needless to say, this is not a play that is aiming at the millennial crowd. The story centers on Anna (Lavin), whose failing health forces her to take a look back at her life and share the details of—you guessed it—a brief affair in the fall of 1973. Her grown twins Seth (Greg Keller) and Abby (Kate Arrington) struggle with her to sort out the details of this encounter with a mysterious man (John Procaccino), whom she met while sipping coffee in Central Park one October. This is a memory play narrated by Seth, who happens to be an obituary writer who always wants to find the right words to summarize every situation.
Much of the play exists simultaneously in the early 2000s, as Anna, Seth, and Abby all comment on what happened as if it's happening right before their eyes. This conceit requires Lavin to often be "living" in two times—maintaining a scene with her secret lover while also commenting on the action as her older self, all while her children offer commentary and Anna comments in both the present and as her younger self. While this sounds confusing, it actually is very easy to follow, and sometimes quite thrilling due to Lynne Meadow's subtle direction.
Most of the first act proceeds much as expected until a pre-intermission plot reveal halts the action completely. I mean that literally. It's so bizarre that the house lights come up and the characters address the audience to explain to us why this is so shocking. Without giving too much away, it involves key players in a Cold War scandal. It's something that seems very important to the characters in the play but might be lost on audience members who didn't live through the Cold War. Most of the second act dwells on this, so the play (for me at least) veered dramatically off course.