New York City Theater
"Our Mother’s Brief Affair"
Samuel J. Friedman Theater
In Richard Greenberg’s thin, sometimes awkward, sometimes curiously cogent “Our Mother’s Brief Affair,” Anna, the parent in question, is torn between a sad, disenchanting domesticity and a wish for glamour and adventure. Self-centered but loving, vain yet insecure, stiff-spined yet malleable, she is facing “the first of many deaths” by revealing secrets both guilt-laden and dismissable.
Before her inevitable demise, she feels she must confess not only to the “brief affair” that happened when she met a stranger in Central Park but a dark moment in the relationship with one of her sisters. As for the affair, it happens while son Seth is taking a viola class at Juilliard. Mom, wearing her Burberry trench coat and elegant scarf, meets an attractive man who, it turns out, may or may not be who he says he is.
The play orbits around lies and truth. Anna is rife for an affair, being married to a man she actively dislikes. Her children are both gay – Seth is an obituary writer, Abby is a librarian. Amid the revelations are glancing references to New York, Jews, liberalism and, coming from out of the blue, terrorism. Dissatisfied with her life, Anna gloms onto the lover who calls himself Phil. Searching for significance, she questions her existence and, by extension, her children’s.
“The second I heard you were twins, I knew you’d be nothing but aggravation,” she says to them. Unable to face what they’ve become, she remains an enigma herself; we never really know who she is, a trait she passed down to Seth and Abby, both also adrift.
Greenberg has dealt with this theme before, this idea of being not who we or others think we are. In “Take Me Out,” “The American Plan” and “Three Viewings,” stories shift with the wind and the truth is inscrutable. His dialogue remains stylish and graceful but those plays were superior works that dramatized their characters, not explained them, as “Affair” does too often.
Director Lynn Meadow does what she can with some rather clumsy shortcuts, such as characters’ speaking directly to the audience. In Linda Lavin she has, of course, a consummate actress, withering in her glances, acerbic with her dialogue, as she creates a life-weary, unlikable yet, at the same time, sympathetic character. Greg Keller as Seth, Kate Arrington as Abby and John Procaccino as Phil are her worthy satellites.
It’s a play you wish was more experimental, more surreal, more as consciously abstract as Santo Loquasto’s set. As it is now, “Affair” is flat and frustratingly diffuse.
--David A. Rosenberg
Feb. 1, 2016