This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001


Phoebe Fox, Mark Strong, and Nicola Walker star as a family about to face some ugly truths in A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE

Phoebe Fox, Mark Strong, and Nicola Walker star as a family about to face some ugly truths in A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE (photo by Jan Versweyveld)

Lyceum Theatre
149 West 45th St. between Broadway & Sixth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through February 21, $30-$135

As you enter the Lyceum Theatre to see Belgium-born, Amsterdam-based director Ivo van Hove’s gripping, Olivier Award–winning transformation of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, the curtain is up, and on the stage is a giant rectangular gray cube. It doesn’t quite reach the bottom, so you can get a teasing glimpse of the floor through a translucent border. On either side of the cube are six rows of rising pews, where some of the audience sits, like a jury waiting to hear the evidence. As if unveiling a magic trick, the cube slowly rises to the rafters, and onstage are Eddie Carbone (Mark Strong) and Louis (Richard Hansell), two Red Hook longshoremen furiously scrubbing their mostly bare bodies like they’re trying to cleanse their inner souls. “Justice is very important here,” a suited observer notes, strolling outside the two-foot-high bench that encircles three sides of the stage, with a nondescript door on the back wall. The easygoing man is Alfieri (Michael Gould), a neighborhood lawyer who is part Greek chorus, part Our Town–like narrator of this twentieth-century tragedy about misguided love, immigration, honor, morality, and, yes, justice. Eddie is the conscience of the play, a hardworking man who holds tight to his convictions, determined to make a better life for his orphaned niece, Catherine (Phoebe Fox), whom he is raising with his wife, Beatrice (Nicola Walker), a stabling influence. When Catherine is offered a job as a stenographer, the overprotective Eddie prefers that she finish school first. “That ain’t what I had in mind,” he says. Eddie and Beatrice take in two of Beatrice’s cousins from Sicily, Marco (Michael Zegen) and Rodolpho (Russell Tovey), illegal immigrants who have snuck into New York on a boat. While Marco is looking to work hard for several years, sending money back home to his wife and kids before making enough to return to Sicily and be with them again, Rodolpho wants to remain in New York and become a performer. When the light-hearted, flashy Rodolpho starts displaying what Eddie considers questionable tendencies — “The guy ain’t right,” Eddie says again and again — while also showing interest in Catherine, Eddie decides to step in between them, setting off a series of battles that have grave consequences.

Passions ignite in Ivo van Hoves staging of Arthur Millers A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE (photo by Jan Versweyveld)

Passions ignite in Ivo van Hove’s staging of Arthur Miller’s A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE (photo by Jan Versweyveld)

Originally staged as a one-act in 1955 and then turned into a two-act show the next year directed by Peter Brook and starring Richard Harris and Anthony Quayle, A View from the Bridge is a stark examination of the American dream in mid-twentieth-century Brooklyn. Van Hove, who over his twenty-five-year career has created unique interpretations of works by Ingmar Bergman (Scenes from a Marriage, Persona), Luchino Visconti (Ludwig II), John Cassavetes (Faces, Husbands), Henrik Ibsen (Hedda Gabler), Pier Paolo Pasolini (Teorema), Tony Kushner (Angels in America), Eugene O’Neill (Mourning Becomes Electra, Long Day’s Journey into Night), and many others, in addition to helming the recent world premiere of Lazarus, his New York Theatre Workshop collaboration with David Bowie and Enda Walsh, gets to the gritty heart of A View from the Bridge, his first Miller adaptation, to be immediately followed by his version of The Crucible, which begins previews on Broadway at the end of February. Van Hove, who has also directed numerous operas, focuses on the operatic aspects of Miller’s narrative in this Young Vic production, highlighting oversized emotions, sexual jealousy, and fierce power struggles as the characters seem in the grip of psychological forces sometimes beyond their control, playing out to their inexorable conclusion. The stage, designed by van Hove’s longtime partner, Jan Versweyveld, is set up like a boxing ring, as the characters go at one another both verbally and physically; even Alfieri eventually becomes more than just a narrator, getting involved in the action as he steps through the door and into the middle of it all. Inside the “ring,” everyone is barefoot as raw passion bubbles to the surface and ugly truths are spat out. In his Broadway debut, the tall, bald Strong (The Imitation Game, Low Winter Sun) is a sensation, giving a brutally honest performance that has him barely able to stand up for his curtain call at the end, the exhaustion palpable all over his face and body. Fox is sweetly vulnerable as the tough-talking young woman caught between childhood and becoming an adult, still wanting to be that little girl while also exploring her burgeoning sexuality. Tom Gibbons’s sound design features a cinematic score that will not be to everyone’s taste, while the controversial ending will thrill some and disappoint others. And then, after two complex, intense, intermissionless hours, the gray cube comes back down, and the magic is put away until the next performance.


(photo by John Quincy Lee)

Vichet Chum and Kelsey Wang star in Pan Asian Rep’s A DREAM OF RED PAVILIONS (photo by John Quincy Lee)

The Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row
410 West 42nd St. between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Through February 14, $66.25

The Pan Asian Repertory Theatre bites off more than it can chew in A Dream of Red Pavilions, continuing at the Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row through February 14. Jeremy Tiang has adapted Cao Xueqin’s eighteenth-century epic Dream of the Red Chamber, one of China’s four great classical novels (along with Water Margin, Journey to the West, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms), into a bumpy, streamlined tale that never develops any kind of pace and rhythm, flatly directed by Tisa Chang and Lu Yu. In the spirit world, a stone named Baoyu (Vichet Chum) offers water to a parched flower, Daiyu (Kelsey Wang). They then descend to earth as cousins in the previously well-off Jia clan, led by court minister Jia Zheng (Fenton Li) and his mother, the family matriarch (Shigeko Sara Suga). Now facing potential financial hardship, the family is excited when eldest daughter Yuanchun (Mandarin Wu, who also portrays the Fairy False), is chosen to be the emperor’s concubine. The tale centers on the love between Baoyu, who was born with jade in his mouth, and the shy, fragile Daiyu, who has to take pills to maintain her health. But Baoyu has been promised to Baochai (Leanne Cabrera), and as his wedding day approaches, the matriarch is hoping for better things for everyone. “A flood of happiness,” she says, “to wash away our bad luck,” which is not quite what happens. Sheryl Liu’s set is relatively simple with a gentle charm, boasting carved wood painted red, and Hyun Sook Kim’s costumes are dramatic, but Douglas Macur’s projections are irrelevant, and Angel Lam’s music is obvious. Of the game cast, Amanda Centeno avails herself the best, playing various maids as well as one of Baoyu’s lovers. But there’s just not enough depth to sustain this epic tale for what turns out to be two very long, very slow hours.


(photo by Russ Rowland)

Amber (Vanessa Vache) and Chris (James Kautz) try to put their life back together in Emily Schwend’s UTILITY (photo by Russ Rowland)

Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
224 Waverly Pl. between Eleventh & Perry Sts.
Wednesday - Monday through October 25, $35

Since the spring of 2007, the Amoralists have been presenting challenging productions marked by bold strokes of black comedy and absurdity, avoiding predictable, conventional narrative paths. The two-part HotelMotel took place in a bedroom in the Gershwin Hotel, The Bad and the Better was an avant-noir that featured no fewer than twenty-six actors playing thirty-three roles in the small Peter Jay Sharp Theater, while The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side involved a much-talked-about nude scene. In their latest show, Emily Schwend’s Utility, which opened last night at the Rattlestick, they have come up with yet another surprise: a wonderfully touching, beautifully subtle drama about love, family, and the everyday struggles to just get by in East Texas. Amoralists cofounder and president James Kautz plays Chris, a recovering pill popper and ne’er-do-well who wants to reunite with his estranged wife, Amber (Vanessa Vache), and the kids. Amber is the central figure, the conflicted heart of the story, working two jobs while juggling myriad household and child-care responsibilities, including preparing for a big birthday party for her eight-year-old daughter, Janie. Meanwhile, Chris is of only ineffectual help, occasionally called in to work a few days a week at a local joint while also helping his older brother, Jim (Alex Grubbs), fix the water damage that forced everyone out of their house in the first place. “C’mon now. It’ll be easier this way,” Chris pleads. “Right. It’ll be easier, till it ain’t easier no more. . . . ’Cause I don’t got the energy to hate you. I am just done with the bullshit, okay?” Amber says. Chris claims he’s a changed man, so they decide to give it another try. Amber gets reluctant help from her mother, Laura (Melissa Hurst), who lives just down the street, while Jim hangs around with very little to say about anything. As the party approaches, problems pile up, mainly because of Chris’s hapless negligence, and Amber begins to seriously doubt her decisions.

(photo by Russ Rowland)

Jim (Alex Grubbs) looks on as Amber (Vanessa Vache) wonders what’s next in Amoralists world premiere (photo by Russ Rowland)

Schwend (The Other Thing, South of Settling), who hails from Texas, has created an involving little slice-of-life tale that could really take place anytime, anywhere. But Kate Noll’s kitchen set seems right out of the 1970s, with an old Peanuts lunchbox, a dilapidated microwave, a canister of iced-tea mix, and white aluminum siding. (The props are by Zach Serafin.) Director Jay Stull (the Amoralists’ Rantoul and Die, Schwend’s Take Me Back) gives plenty of space for the story to breathe in and breathe out at a naturalistic pace, giving equal weight to whatever is going on; there are no shocking twists, no sudden jolts of action, just everyday life going on, with all of the pitfalls and at least some of the dreams. The cast is led by a particularly gorgeous turn by Amoralists veteran Vache (Rantoul and Die, HotelMotel, The Bad and the Better), who commands the stage with a bittersweet presence; when she sits down at the kitchen table and has a cigarette, you can see her mind hard at work, trying to figure out if she is ever going to get out of the hole she and her family are in. Kautz (The Other Thing, Take Me Back, The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side) imbues Chris with just enough of a smidgen of possibility and usefulness so that you can root for him even though you know he’s a luckless, though well-meaning, loser, while Grubbs (SeaWife, These Seven Sicknesses) adds a dose of dark humor with his ever-so-brief, deep-voiced dialogue. Utility reveals another, gentler side of the Amoralists, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful than its wilder, crazier productions.


(photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Christopher Denham and Al Pacino star in David Mamet’s latest Broadway show, the critically reviled CHINA DOLL (photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Through January 31, $92-$149.50

Is China Doll really as bad as all that? “If you can abide it / let the hurdy-gurdy play / Stranger ones have come by here / before they flew away,” Jerry Garcia sings in the 1973 Grateful Dead song “China Doll,” adding, “Take up your china doll / It’s only fractured / and just a little nervous / from the fall.” Robert Hunter’s lyrics are rather apt for David Mamet’s new Broadway play, which closes January 31 after a critically battered run. Reports during previews claimed that audience members were leaving in droves during intermission, that star Al Pacino, who has appeared in such previous Mamet works as American Buffalo and Glengarry Glen Ross, needed help remembering his lines, and that Mamet was still tinkering with the script, resulting in a delayed official opening. The two-hour play eventually opened on December 4 to scathing reviews. In the New York Times, Ben Brantley called it “saggy,” decrying, “Now please cue sound effects of chalk scratching on countless blackboards and the ping, ping, ping of an endlessly dripping faucet, and you have some idea of what Mr. Denham must be going through night after night after night,” referring to Pacino’s costar, Christopher Denham. In New York magazine, Jesse Green declared, “Al Pacino is not an actor of much breadth but he stakes a narrow territory deeply, and that can be brilliant to watch onstage. China Doll, his shaky new Broadway vehicle, by David Mamet, offers flashes of that brilliance between long mucky passages in which he appears to be hunting for the narrative, if not the next line.” In the New York Daily News, Joe Dziemianowicz chimed in, “Some actors can make reading the white pages fascinating. Pacino fails to make phone calls anything but drudgery.” Rex Reed was rather unkind in the New York Observer, proclaiming, “David Mamet’s ghastly China Doll is the worst thing I’ve seen on a professional New York stage since the ill-fated Moose Murders. On the disaster meter, it might be even worse. Al Pacino walks like an anchovy and looks like an unmade bunk bed.” And the West Coast added its thoughts as well, with Charles McNulty noting in the Los Angeles Times,The Anarchist, Mamet’s last original play to debut on Broadway, sounded like two typewriters clacking at each other. China Doll is more of a drone.” So it was with bated breath that we attended one of the show’s final performances, hoping that maybe by this time, the play, and Pacino himself, had found its groove. Of course, the reviews had little effect on the box office, as theater lovers and tourists continued to pour in to see one of the best actors in Hollywood history, the beloved Oscar-, Tony-, and Emmy-winning star of The Godfather, Scent of a Woman, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Scarface, and Glengarry Glen Ross.

Entering the theater lobby, we were greeted with large photos of George Soros, the Koch brothers, Warren Buffett, Carl Icahn, and other real-life billionaires, alongside Mickey Ross, the character Pacino plays in China Doll. Ross is an aging, self-obsessed, disheveled mess of a man who is in the midst of negotiating a way out of having to pay five million dollars in taxes for a new private plane, which he is purchasing primarily for his trophy fiancée, the never-seen Francine Pierson. He has no illusions about who he is and what he is doing; he is fully aware that he is an aging, self-obsessed, disheveled mess of a man with a trophy fiancée. Ross spends most of the play on his Bluetooth, arguing about taxes, legal and political shenanigans, and airplane registration numbers, while both chastising and teaching his assistant, Carson (Denham), who sees Ross as a mentor. The first act is not so bad; Pacino’s stumbling, slow-talking style seems fitting for his character, Denham (The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin, The Lieutenant of Inishmore) is a solid sounding board for Pacino, and the plot, about a nasty, greedy one-percenter essentially looking to die in the arms of a beautiful young woman, is not quite wholly annoying yet. But yes, it does indeed get there in the woeful second act, during which you just want to run onstage, grab Pacino’s earpiece, stomp on it, and tell him to shut the hell up already. It’s hard not to cringe when Ross is on the phone with Francine, placating her no matter what. In many ways, Ross is exactly what’s wrong today with America; Mamet might not have been creating a sympathetic character with the bombastic billionaire, but we don’t completely despise him either. Instead, we don’t care about Mickey Ross and his ridiculous dilemma, which is much, much worse. Not even Tony-winning director Pam MacKinnon (Clybourne Park, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and Tony- and Emmy-winning set designer Derek McLane (The Pajama Game, Anything Goes) can bring any level of warmth to this cold, unfeeling drama. China Doll might actually work in a condensed one-act version; but as it is, it grows ever-more intolerable as it goes on. But again, critical reviews have had no impact on this very popular show, as evidenced by curtain-opening applause for Mr. Pacino in both the first and second acts as well as a rapturous standing ovation at the end. “I will not condemn you / nor yet would I deny / I would ask the same of you / but failing will not die,” Garcia sings in “China Doll.” If only we could say the same for Mamet and Pacino’s latest collaboration.


(photo by Hunter Canning)

Donny Stixx (Harry Farmer) gets ready for a magical night in New York premiere of Philip Ridley play (photo by Hunter Canning)

HERE SubletSeries
145 Sixth Ave. at Dominick St.
Through February 7, $25 each show, $40 for both

Near the beginning of Tonight with Donny Stixx, one of two companion Philip Ridley one-person plays running in repertory at Here through February 7, Stixx (Harry Farmer) says to the audience, “I am here to entertain you. Expect to be surprised. Expect to be amazed. But most of all . . . expect the unexpected.Tonight with Donny Stixx and Dark Vanilla Jungle, a pair of powerful, confrontational, poignant monologues, offer all that and more as they get right in your face and put you on edge. In Tonight with Donny Stixx, which premiered last August at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Farmer stars as the title character, a fifteen-year-old boy with dreams of becoming a famous magician. In Dark Vanilla Jungle, which premiered in August 2013 at the fringe, Robyn Kerr stars as Andrea, a fifteen-year-old girl with dreams of love and romance. Shifting between the past and the present, going from a hopeful, positive future to sudden, curse-filled outbursts, Donny and Andrea prance around Steven C. Kemp’s claustrophobic stage design, a cagelike set with one metallic chair, resembling either a jail cell or a police interrogation room. Neither actor ever ventures outside the fourteen-by-fourteen-square tiled floor, as if there are imaginary bars on the three sides where the audience sits; at the back is a grid of twenty-eight large, exposed lightbulbs, which designer Dante Olivia Smith uses to flash such shapes as a cross and shine sharply into the audience’s eyes. Donny and Andrea often address audience members directly, pointing at them and asking for their opinion or a reminder of what they were talking about, but while a nod or a shake of the head is okay, it’s best not to answer them verbally. “Where was all this heading?” Andrea asks. “Don’t tell me!”

(photo by Hunter Canning)

Andrea (Robyn Kerr) shares her mesmerizing tale in Philip Ridley’s DARK VANILLA JUNGLE (photo by Hunter Canning)

The similarities between the two New York premieres, being presented for the first time ever together — Donny Stixx is directed by Frances Loy for the Ferment Theatre, while Jungle is directed by Paul Takacs for the Shop — extend to both style and narrative substance. Both mentally troubled, disillusioned youths were raised in dysfunctional working-class families in the East End of London, where they go to the same mall, and each has apparently committed a terrible and shocking, ripped-from-the-headlines crime. Retreating ever deeper into their fantasy worlds, they both also have tentative relationships with the truth. “EVERYONE LIES! EVERYONE LIES! EVERYONE LIES!” Donny angrily repeats, while Andrea offers a more gentle, “But men lie, don’t they?” The two performances are absolutely electrifying; the twenty-three-year-old London-born, Los Angeles-based Farmer and the thirty-six-year-old Jamaican-born, Long Island City-based Kerr grab you from the start and never let go for eighty unnerving, exhilarating, unrelenting minutes. As is true with many of Ridley’s plays, the audience is essentially part of the show, trapped in the theater, with no easy route out while the play is going on — and yes, people have been known to want to head for the exits early because of the controversial playwright’s often violent subject matter. In the New Group’s 2015 revival of Mercury Fur at the Signature, there was no intermission despite the two-hour length, so in order to leave before the end of the show, which included the torture of a child, you had to basically walk across the set, right past the actors; the same was true of Takacs’s 2012 production of Tender Napalm at 59E59, which took place in a small, narrow space between two horizontal rows of people in a tiny theater. But Ridley, who is also a film director, screenwriter, poet, lyricist, and children’s book author, writes with such skill and intelligence, and the acting and direction is so impeccable, that you shouldn’t even entertain the possibility of leaving before the end of either of these incendiary works; in any case, you might be too scared to get up out of your seat anyway.


(photo by Joan Marcus)

Riotous Roundabout revival of NOISES OFF goes behind the scenes of theater madness (photo by Joan Marcus)

American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 6, $67-$152

There’s a reason why so many critics consider Michael Frayn’s 1982 farce, Noises Off, one of the funniest plays ever written; it is a nonstop hilarious riff on the presentation of theater itself, and in its latest incarnation, a Roundabout revival at the American Airlines Theatre, it is performed with pinpoint precision timing that will have you gasping in admiration even as you nearly fall out of your chair laughing. The three-act romp begins as a small company is in its final tech rehearsal for the world premiere of Robin Housemonger’s sex comedy Nothing On before opening night at the Grand Theatre in Weston-super-Mare. (A fake program for the imaginary Nothing On is slipped inside the Noises Off Playbill to heighten the reality of the fictional play-within-a-play; Housemonger is credited with such previous works as Briefs Encounter and Socks Before Marriage.) Director Lloyd Dallas (Campbell Scott) has a lot on his plate: The actors can’t remember their lines, and his star, the aging doyenne Dotty Otley (Andrea Martin), is confused about where the sardines are. The fictional Nothing On itself is a wicked sendup of British country-house drama: Dotty is Mrs Clackett, elderly housekeeper for the Brent family’s country home, where dapper house agent Roger (David Furr as Garry Lejeune) is attempting a tryst on the sly with ditzy blonde bombshell Vicky (Megan Hilty as Brooke Ashton) while the owners, milquetoast nosebleeder Philip Brent (Jeremy Shamos as Frederick Fellowes) and his wife, the practical Flavia (Kate Jennings Grant as Belinda Blair), arrive for their own secret rendezvous (secret from Inland Revenue, that is; they are avoiding the scourge of the British upper class: income tax). Then a burglar (Daniel Davis as alcoholic has-been Selsdon Mowbray) arrives to add to the confusion. Doors are slammed, entrances are missed, doors are slammed, lines are botched, props are misused, and yet more doors are slammed. As evening turns into morning, the cast and crew — which also includes tense and nervous assistant stage manager Poppy Norton-Taylor (Tracee Chimo) and stage manager Tim Allgood (Rob McClure), who has a highly inappropriate last name — struggle to put it all together, for of course, the show must go on.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Megan Hilty nearly steals the show as pouty vixen Brooke Ashton at the American Airlines Theatre (photo by Joan Marcus)

The first act is set up as if the audience is watching the rehearsal of Nothing On; for the second act, the living room is flipped around so the audience sees it from the other side, revealing the backstage shenanigans one month later at the Theatre Royal in Ashton-under-Lyne. (The wonderful sets are by Emmy and Tony winner Derek McLane.) Frayn (Copenhagen, Benefactors) and director Jeremy Herrin (Wolf Hall Parts 1 & 2) now reveal the behind-the-scenes madness that goes on during the first act. The audience has already learned all of the cues, the entrances and exits, but witnessing it from this vantage point is utterly fascinating. The cast and crew’s secret liaisons slowly emerge, and the melodramatics escalate as they enter or leave the play-within-a-play, resulting in some riotous physical comedy while also getting a little too bogged down and repetitive. But all of that is necessary to make the third act one of the smartest and funniest you’ll ever have the pleasure to experience. The show is now concluding its tour at the Municipal Theatre in Stockton-on-Tees, where the company is once again performing the first act. Only this time, all of the actor’s quirks and failures, inside jokes and relationship problems from the first two acts collide in a delirious extravaganza of fun and nonsense worthy of John Cleese’s Fawlty Towers. Martin (Pippin, My Favorite Year), Davis (Wrong Mountain, Talking Heads), Furr (The Importance of Being Earnest, Accent on Youth), Jennings Grant (The Lyons, Proof), Hilty (Wicked, 9 to 5: The Musical), and Shamos (Clybourne Park, The Assembled Parties) do an exceptional job switching between their dual roles, with Martin in particular excelling and Hilty (who will not be performing February 12-14) nearly stealing the show with her squeaky voice and absurdly mannered body positions. (Noises Off debuted on Broadway in 1983 with Dorothy Loudon, Victor Garber, Brian Murray, Deborah Rush, Douglas Seale, and Amy Wright and was revived in 2001 with Patti LuPone, Peter Gallagher, Faith Prince, T. R. Knight, and Katie Finneran. The 1992 Peter Bogdanovich film starred Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, Nicollette Sheridan, Denholm Elliott, Julie Hagerty, Mark Linn-Baker, and Marilu Henner.) Herrin does a marvelous job of maintaining the frenetic pace while allowing the characters to develop their unique personalities; he has a ball playing with the audience’s expectations, keeping everyone on the edge of their seat, both gaping in wonder and trying not to fall over in laughter. And through it all are those doors.

In “A Glimpse of the Noumenal,” a fake condensed essay from Eros Untrousered — Studies in the Semantics of Bedroom Farce that appears in the Nothing On program, JG Stillwater writes, “A recurring and highly significant feature of the genre is a multiplicity of doors. If we regard the world on this side of the doors as the physical one in which mortal men are condemned to live, the world or worlds concealed behind them may be thought of as representing both the higher and more spiritual plane into which the postulants hope to escape, and the underworld from which at any moment demons may leap out to tempt or punish. When the doors do open, it is often with great suddenness and unexpectedness, highly suggestive of those epiphanic moments of insight and enlightenment which give access to the ‘other,’ and offer us a fleeting glimpse of the noumenal.” This second Broadway revival of Noises Off — the title refers to offstage sounds — is chock full of epiphanic moments that are as noumenal as they are phenomenal, in more than just the Kantian meaning. It gives the audience an inside look at the potential catastrophes that await live theater, yet performed to near perfection in a joyful tribute to the glory of the stage.


(photo by Joan Marcus)

A park bench is the main setting in Richard Greenberg’s OUR MOTHER’S AFFAIR (photo by Joan Marcus)

Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 6, $60-$140

Our Mother’s Brief Affair, Richard Greenberg’s eleventh collaboration with Manhattan Theatre Club, starts off promisingly enough, but a bizarrely bombastic reveal shortly before intermission derails the rest of this quiet family drama. Tony winner Linda Lavin stars as Anna, a variation of a character previously introduced in Greenberg’s Everett Beekin and played by Bebe Neuwirth in 2001 at Lincoln Center. On one of her many deathbeds yet again, the Burberry-loving Anna tells her son, Seth (Greg Keller), that she had an affair with a man (John Procaccino) back in 1973, when she took Seth to Juilliard for his weekly music class. Although Seth, an obituary writer used to examining people’s lives in death, thinks she’s just making up another story, his twin sister, Abby (Kate Arrington, in her seventh Greenberg work), confirms its truth. Anna’s confession becomes even more shocking when she tells them who the man is, a minor but real person in the Cold War and a figure of revulsion to New York’s Jewish intelligentsia. The name is less than well known enough to require a sort of extended live footnote, so the show comes to a screeching halt as Seth and Abby explain who he is and what he did. Greenberg’s choice of partner for Anna is so head-scratchingly strange that the play simply can’t get back on track.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Anna (Linda Lavin) and her lover (John Procaccino) recall the good old days in Richard Greenberg play (photo by Joan Marcus)

Lavin (The Lyons, The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife), at seventy-eight, adds some sex appeal to her role as a mother with secrets of her own that are finally coming out, as she claims once again to be facing the end. Procaccino (Incident at Vichy, Nikolai and the Others), one of New York theater’s busiest, and most dependable, actors, is laden down with playing a historical figure that overwhelms his presence. Keller (The Who and the What, Of Good Stock) and Arrington (Grace, The Iceman Cometh), as dysfunctional gay twins, are expository characters who never quite develop their own personalities. Santo Loquasto’s easygoing set consists of a few chairs and a park bench, where Seth, Abby, Anna, her husband (also played by Procaccino), and her lover go back and forth between 1973, 2003, and 2006, with everyone watching what unfolds regardless of what time period they are from, which is occasionally unnerving. MTC artistic director Lynne Meadow never quite pulls together the time shifts and plot reveals; despite a fine lead performance by Lavin, Our Mother’s Brief Affair — which was originally staged as a slightly shorter one-act in 2009 by South Coast Rep, with Jenny O’Hara, Arye Gross, Marin Hinkle, and Matthew Arkin and directed by Pam MacKinnon — feels more like a short story, or a subplot from another play, unable to sustain itself, particularly because it just can’t support the major twist that pulls the rug out from under whatever possibilities it might have had.