This review of Richard Greenberg's Our Mother's Brief Affair at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Our Mother's Brief Affair
Written by Richard Greenberg
Directed by David Dubin
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Our Mother's Brief Affair premiered at the South Coast Repertory Theatre in April 2009. It opened on Broadway at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club) on December 28, 2015 (previews) and officially on January 20, 2016, closing on March 6, 2016. Anna, the lead character, decides to confess to Seth, her son (an obituary writer) that she had a brief affair when he was a teenager taking lessons at Julliard in New York City. In fact, Anna may not have allowed Seth to quit since it allowed her an excuse to travel into Manhattan to sleep with Phil, her secret lover. Anna, a liberal, Jewish mother from Long Island fond of wearing a beige Burberry Jacket with a stylish scarf (one of the few gifts her husband Abe gave her that she liked) has never been in line to win "an Ethics Medal from Benito Mussolini." When a young girl, she used to sit on a fire escape and swing her legs open so the soldiers below could get a free show. When her younger sister Mary was dying of Lupus, she sometimes ignored her and would not even get her a drink of water. Then, just because she had twins, she felt there was something wrong with her that caused that outcome. And then you have her adultery and her maintaining a Post Office Box in East Meadow (she lived in Merrick) so she could secretly get letters from her lovers (who knows how many there were). This revelation is a surprise to Seth but his twin sister Abby found out about the affair and the letters from their father in the late 1990s. Anna's deathbed observation with respect to these moral and ethical lapses is that "some things you do, show you who you are for all times."
Despite her liberal attitude, Anna still has problems with the fact that both her children are either in a relationship with a same-sex partner or seeking such a match. She criticizes her daughter Abby for "starting up with girls in her late 30s" and abandons nudging Seth to find a nice boy simply because he is gay. Had he been straight, she would have bugged him day and night to find a nice girl. Anna's lover Phil may or may not have been David Greenglass, the kid brother of Ethel Rosenberg, who testified against Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who spied for the Soviet Union and were tried, convicted and executed for conspiracy to commit espionage. They were instrumental in the transmission of information about top-secret military technology and prototypes of mechanisms related to the atomic bomb and also provided top-secret radar, sonar, and jet propulsion engines to the Soviet Union. David Greenglass, who served nine and a half years in prison, worked at the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico and was also an atomic spy for the Soviet Union. He claims to have stolen documents because the Soviets were our friends and the whole "balance of power" thing, but in the end, he testified against his sister Ethel because he wanted to live. Even though there is no longer any doubt that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were guilty, Seth, the radical liberal, can't seem to forgive his mother for sleeping with "swine." Anna's defense regarding why she didn't walk away was that he "looked like a little boy" and that they "had already paid for the room." Anna may be confusing fantasy with reality or she may believe her affair is worthy of inclusion in her obituary. As she describes it, "I'm a woman who had a moment and if that moment was with David Greenglass - so be it!"
Despite the lack of substance or resolution, I thought the play was well-written and very engaging. We learn about the respective characters and their history over time and there are many interesting secrets that are revealed. The audience is taken on a journey and introduced to people who don't have everything figured out, and in some cases, need to forgive themselves before they can move on. The entire cast is outstanding but Frances McGarry, who plays Anna, is the star of the show. She is a strong and talented actress playing a part that is quite psychologically complex. She shines and so does this production. Edward Cress does a fine job portraying Seth, and Lauren Duffy doesn't let us down as Abby. The relationship between the twins is realistic and believable. David Rifkind plays both Phil/David and Anna's husband Abe. He hits the mark in all his roles and clearly distinguishes them. David Dubin does a great job directing this production and the set is quite impressive.
I think you will very much enjoy seeing Richard Greenberg's Our Mother's Brief Affair, which runs at Studio Theatre Long Island through January 29, 2016. Tickets cost $25.00 and can be purchased at www.StudioTheatreLI.com. For more information, call 631-226-8400.