Nicky Silver is not a shockmonger, but he likes to jolt audiences with spurts of cruelty or violence. At this point, the most perverse thing he could write would be a sweetly self-sacrificing mother. Enter overseasoned stage diva Audrey Langham (Linda Lavin). Although first revealed flubbing her lines in a regional production of Medea (tee hee!), Audrey is one of the more nurturing of Silver’s monstrous moms. In fact, Too Much Sun finds the acidic playwright in a kinder, melancholic, dare I say semi-Chekhovian mood.
The Anton vibe is helped by Too Much Sun’s country-home setting, where Audrey descends upon her neurotic, estranged daughter, Kitty (Jennifer Westfeldt), and contemplates leaving showbiz. Kitty’s sci-fi-writer husband, Dennis (Ken Barnett) chafes at his mother-in-law’s unwelcome visit, but he’s got more on his mind, namely a teen neighbor (Matt Dickson) who deals pot. Pretty soon Audrey has her own romantic designs on said teen’s widower dad (Richard Bekins). Silver stirs in an unhappy assistant (Matt Dellapina) to Audrey’s odious agent for extra laughs.
All the Silver trademarks are here—dragon mom, damaged daughter, sexual betrayal. But they emerge fresh in Mark Brokaw’s smart, delicate staging. For her part, Lavin sucks the poison out of every zinger, swirls it for a moment, then spits it out. She savors acts of emotional brutality (some, it turns out, morally sound) like they’re vintage wine. Cheers.—David Cote
Too Much Sun. Vineyard Theatre (see Off Broadway). By Nicky Silver. Directed by Mark Brokaw. With Linda Lavin, Jennifer Westfeldt. Running time: 2hrs 10mins. One intermission.
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote