Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

An Affair to Remember

April 13, 2009

from l-r: Matthew Arkin, Jenny O'Hara, Marin Hinkle, Arye Gross
Photo: South Coast Repertory 2009

Playwright Richard Greenberg’s long relationship with South Coast Repertory theater in Orange County continues to bear fruit with yet another world premiere there this month entitled Our Mother’s Brief Affair. It’s in line with much of his recent work, lightly tweaking the liberal middle class for its apparent hypocrisy by thrusting his characters in a situation that pushes the very buttons they are quick to point out in others. In this sense, Affair is perhaps most kindred to 2002’s A Naked Girl on the Appian Way, but this time the issue isn’t race as much as it is loyalty to one’s moral convictions.

It’s a sparse 90-minute, 4 character affair where two fraternal twins, brother and sister, cope and complain about new revelations from their now elderly mother about a 10-week romantic affair she had in her fifties while still married to their father. The characters deliver most of the dialogue as expositions, though funny expositions, aimed directly at the audience with brief asides to one another to actually flesh out the scenes they are describing. Greenberg is no stranger to this tactic, though he seems more enamored with it than ever here giving Affair a rather didactic flair. There’s more than a little sentiment as well, but things can get long winded. In perhaps the riskiest gambit, though, the whole plot revolves around a bit of detail from American history I won’t reveal here. Let it be said, however, that it’s obscure enough that the characters spend a good 10 minutes during a break in the “action” to acknowledge and fully explain all the history around the not-actually-dramatic twist. It doesn’t exactly work. I mean, it’s understandable in its explanation; it’s just a little far to reach in such a slim wisp of a theater piece.

The set consists only of a concrete enclosed New York park that the characters inhabit moving from bench to bench to represent scene changes. The acting is quite good. Arye Gross and Marin Hinkle play the twins to Jenny O’Hara’s mother and all of them are utterly convincing with the neurotic bits they’re given. It’s a psychological play, but not deeply so and none of them get too carried away when they don’t need to be. It’s very pleasant and warmhearted. And while it’s not likely to change anyone’s life, Our Mother’s Brief Affair might get somebody to stop and think—even if only for a very short while. It continues on stage in Costa Mesa through May 3.

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