by Richard Greenberg
Directed by Lynne Meadow
Starring Linda Lavin
A Production of Manhattan Theatre Club
at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
Official Website

Reviewed by David Spencer

For almost the whole of the first act of Our Mother’s Brief Affair, it seemed to me a pleasant enough, funny enough stage comedy, but not particularly unique from the pack. Grown brother and sister Seth (Greg Keller) and Abby (Kate Arrington), are concerned about their widowed mother Anna (Linda Lavin), who is of the age where cognitive loss can affect the memory, and talking about past events whose reality is up for debate. In particular, one about a  secret, extramarital affair she had when they were just children. An affair with a mysterious lover (John Prococcino).

            Then, just at the act break of this possibly-deceptive memory play, the lover, as recalled by Anna, reveals his own secret. An identity he usually finds it best to conceal. But in her, he believes he has finally met a person who would understand. And when he names his true name—

            —well, that’s when I said to myself, “Oh. Now I know why this is a Richard Greenberg play.” The reveal crystallizes the themes, and in keeping with Mr. Greenberg’s œvure, they’re of a heady order, and of some historical significance, which suddenly makes the accuracy of memory, of documentation, of possible alternate interpretations, very important.

            Here’s what pulls me up short, though. Waiting for the Act Break to get a story surprise is one thing; tried and true. Waiting for the Act Break to clarify why you’re watching…well, that’s a long time. And withholding that has the effect of making what is otherwise a perfectly respectable, decently funny comedy about a universal family issue, the memory of elderly parents, seem somehow slender, and as if it hasn’t quite fulfilled its own assignment. Under the no-frills, to-the-point direction of Lynne Meadow, it’s well acted by all, but even the ever-commanding mistress of comedic nuance, Linda Lavin, seems somewhat constrained by the task of trying to fill the enigma.

            Ironically, I don’t mean this to be a negative review. I was certainly entertained by Our Mother’s Brief Affair; the language is engaging, the pace unfaltering…it’s all worthy goods, delivered with cool assurance.

            I just wish it had more urgency of purpose…

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