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Our Mother’s Brief Affair

                                         By David Schultz

Actress Linda Lavin has portrayed this acutely observed Jewish mother in various guises and plays many times before; The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, Broadway Bound, and most recently The Lyons a few seasons ago spring to mind. At first glance this new play penned by Richard Greenberg seems to be more of the same. That is not the case since with the accretion of numerous portraits of Jewish motherhood in her back pocket, and in her immaculate attention to detail, this newest addition to her Jewish momma cannon surely stands apart. The title of the play gives one the sense that this is going to be a look into the past on a loving and sadly regrettable love affair, tinges of melancholy and remorse as dessert.

Playwright Greenberg has something more complex and enigmatic to drop onto your lap. Scenic designer Santo Loquasto posits the entire setting with an autumnal look with his sparse setting. Stage left reveals a solitary park bench, somewhere in Central Park, stage right a table and comfortable chair and ottoman, the atmospheric moody lighting design (Peter Kaczorowski) changes our perspective as the scene flits imperceptibly between a bedroom scene and a hospital bed. Various boxes and small furniture lay in the rear of the stage. As each character moves throughout the play, subtle light cues inform where we are at any given time.  

Kate Arrington as Abby and Greg Keller 

Anna (Linda Lavin) is again summoning her two children Seth (Greg Keller), and Abby (Kate Arrington) to her hospital bedside for the umpteenth time. She again, to no surprise to her children is dying, (not really) and wishes to finally fess up to her ‘deep dark secret from the past’. Seth is a single young gay obituary writer, his twin sister, and a librarian visiting from California. She has a girlfriend a child back home. Anna is closer to Seth and feels she can tell him of her past indiscretion. This oh-so-naughty incident occurred in the 1970’s. With a fluid sense of movement various moments are reenacted to show what happened to each character. In an early scene the male lover (John Procaccino) is revealed, as Anna coyly chats on the park bench, and finds a connection with this attractive man of mystery.  Anna’s deceased husband Abe, also portrayed by Mr. Procaccino, occasionally appears on the sidelines to give his version of his marriage to Anna. Scenes move both forward and backward in time, with the fourth wall breaking as the siblings’ edge toward the stage and address the audience. So far this is cut and dried and not that out of the ordinary. What stokes the proceedings with suspense is playwright Greenberg’s elegant use of language and metaphor. He is a master of the well-placed quip and withering aside. His unerring understanding of these characters and their inner lives makes the truth be told; ‘we have heard all this before tale’, completely fascinating. But where can he go with this? Where can he be possibly leading us?

While Seth was going to his violin lessons at Julliard in the 70’s, Anna, draped in her smart Burberry trench coat and expensive scarf, met up with her lover and commenced with her forbidden tryst. Act One ends on a cliffhanger (no spoiler alert here) with a shocking reveal on who exactly her lover really is, and was, in an earlier incarnation. The play jolts to a halt; the revelation seems stilted and doesn’t really coalesce into what we initially thought was going to occur. A long ago ripped from Real Life headlines Cold War incident rears its head. The actual name of her lover won’t ring a bell for modern audiences, but in the opening of the Second Act, the fourth wall is broken again by Seth and Abby. The house lights are brought up, and in a chilling six minute monologue the true story of this man from our history (1953 to be exact) is fully explained and what he did is calmly laid out for the audience.

 John Procaccino and Linda Lavin                       photos by Joan Marcus

The following hour posits the past and current timeframe with more pithy memories. The past fades in the distance as the children hear another shocking story from Anna’s past. The closely held secret of Anna now rears it’s head, and in a hushed tone of aching regret she reveals a dark revelation of her own to her children, from many years ago. It has an uncanny and oddly mirror-like connectivity to her long ago lover’s revelation. It is at this juncture that the play finally jells and the real intent of the play finally shows its plumage. The sense of fact and possibly fiction within this woman’s memory are thrilling and disturbing at once. Ending on an ambiguous note, the themes of salvation and forgiveness are inextricably entwined.        

Playing at The Samuel L. Friedman Theatre

261 West 47th Street

212 239-6200

Playing through March 6th