There’s a riveting moment in the middle of Richard Greenberg’s new play, “Our Mother’s Brief Affair,” which opened Wednesday at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. A twin brother and sister face the audience to give us the backstory on the real-life person with whom their mother might have had an affair.
The play, after a long 40 minutes, comes to life as we listen to historical details about a relatively unknown but not-so-minor player (played John Procaccino) in the Red Scare of the 1950s. Neither the petulant performances by Kate Arrington and Greg Keller nor the arch writing by Greenberg is compelling. The five-minute history lesson, however, mesmerizes because the bare facts continue to astound more than a half century later.
Later in “Affair,” Greenberg attempts to deliver another bombshell when the mother, played by Linda Lavin, reveals a life-altering secret that continues to haunt her. Lavin milks the tale, creating more suspense than the shower scene in “Psycho.” Greenberg’s fictitious revelation, however, is a major letdown compared to the aforementioned history lesson, which can be found on Wikipedia.
The other stunner, according to Greenberg, is that Mom’s brief affair somehow forced her son to take viola lessons at Juilliard two years after he wanted to quit. Is that what led him to become a celibate homosexual? The play is filled with attempts at wit, like the one Mom delivers about her son being a “string terrorist.” Or statements that “the potato chip is nature’s most perfect food,” which Lavin delivers as if she’s quoting Oscar Wilde. The actress is a real trouper.
“Affair” is nearly a drama-less drama. Nearly every conflict presented is resolved by someone on stage telling us how it is resolved. At the beginning of the play, the daughter talks about leaving her girlfriend. At the end, she reveals that everything’s okay now that they no longer have sex. Whew, I was worried.
Likewise, character traits are thrown out and dismissed. After the intermission, the son indicates that his mother is a liberal “apologist.” Yes, she is Jewish and she lives in Manhattan. Otherwise, the mother of the first act appears to be a narcissist whose opinions are limited to potato chips and what color scarf she should wear. Spoiler alert: She’s into orange.
Lynne Meadow directs.