Our Mother’s Brief Affair

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.  

The cast deals with the text in a nimble manner that keeps the audience engaged in the story as it finds its footing until its less than fulfilling conclusion. Lavin is the glue holding everything together. Her performance switches from heartbreaking to hysterical without skipping a beat. It's hard to take your eyes off of her, and it wouldn't surprise me if she has another Tony nomination to add to her already illustrious career. 
Unfortunately though, the play is flawed. While it speaks to the universal issue of aging parents and the mystique of their lives while their children grow up, it doesn't go much farther than that. If you're a history buff who likes intellectual dramas, then Our Mother's Brief Affair might be your thing. If your parents loved Alice, see a ton of theatre, and possibly serve on the board of a symphony or art museum, they will probably love this show; otherwise it might not quite be up their alley. It's not your run-of-the-mill "traditional" family drama. Without question, Lavin does kick ass.
(Our Mother's Brief Affair plays at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, through March 1, 2016. Performances are Tuesdays at 7; Wednesdays at 2 and 7; Thursdays and Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 2 and 8; and Sundays at 2. Tickets are $70-$140 and are available at or by calling 212-239-6200.)
Our Mother's Brief Affair is written by Richard Greenberg and directed by Lynne Meadow. Scenic design is by Santo Loquasto. Costume design is by Tom Broecker. Lighting design is by Peter Kaczorowski. Sound design is by Fits Patton.
The cast features Kate Arrington, Greg Keller, Linda Lavin, and John Procaccino.