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Our Mother's Brief Affair

Richard Greenberg's new play about grown children and their mother's past infidelity is one of the Tony Award-winning playwright's best efforts yet.

By Los Angeles
Matthew Arkin, Jenny O'Hara, Marin Hinkle and Arye Gross
in Our Mother's Brief Affair 
(© Henry DiRocco)
Matthew Arkin, Jenny O'Hara, Marin Hinkle and Arye Gross
in Our Mother's Brief Affair
(© Henry DiRocco)
Whether writing about Charles Van Doren and the quiz show scandals, New York Jews trying to assimilate into Orange County's more laid back lifestyle, children trying to come to grips with the legacy of their parents, or the locker rooms of professional baseball, Tony Award winner Richard Greenberg has consistently struck a chord with audiences. His latest play, Our Mother's Brief Affair, getting its world premiere at South Coast Repertory, is one of his simplest and best efforts yet.

Seth (Arye Gross) and Abby (Marin Hinkle) are middle-aged twin siblings, brought together for yet another death bed vigil by their over dramatic mother Anna (Jenny O'Hara). Although used to her frequent bouts with death and her subsequent recoveries, Seth has summoned Abby back to New York from her home in Laguna Beach because this time Anna has something new to tell. The story of an unhappily married woman and her one brief chance at romance with Phil, a mysterious man (Matthew Arkin) whom she met while Seth was studying at Juilliard. While the affair is unconventional, Anna feels she deserves some happiness after all the years she spent in a loveless marriage to Abe, who was her escape from her home life with a miserable mother.

Greenberg plays with time and narrative here as he has done so successfully in previous plays. Anna's story -- which has another potent surprise inside it -- is told and embellished by the siblings from their future viewpoint as she relives the affair in her present time. Director Pam MacKinnon and her cast deftly belt out all of the playwright's many riffs out of the park. The result is a thrill ride of verbiage --intellectual, touching, bitter, loving, and fascinating.

The staging is simple yet most effective. Set designer Sybil Wickersheimer has placed a few park benches, a tree, and a trash can on the stage, and the park also doubles as every other setting. Rachel Myers' simple costume design, with a scarf here and a handbag there, effectively adds to the characters' personas, and Lap-Chi Chu lights the proceedings with a soft glow.

As for the cast, Greenberg could not have asked for a better fit for Anna than O'Hara, who inhabits every square inch of the character -- the disapproving mother, the unloved wife, the flirtatious teenager, the coquettish matron -- and makes every word and every movement shine like a precious gem. Gross lends stellar support as Seth, a gay man afraid of relationships and most comfortable losing himself in his job of obituary writing; Hinkle brings class and style to Abby, a lesbian trying to adjust to her lover, a new baby and life in California; and Arkin perfectly inhabits the charming scoundrel of a lover.

While this Brief Affair takes up only 90 minutes of stage time, the memory of it will stay with you long after.


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