Stage and screen actress Linda Lavin, 78, who has made a specialty out of playing difficult and domineering Jewish mothers (most recently in the 2012 play “The Lyons”), is at it again in Richard Greenberg’s underwhelming dramatic comedy “Our Mother’s Brief Affair,” which is receiving its New York premiere on Broadway.
This marks the 11th collaboration between the Manhattan Theatre Club and Greenberg, whose best-known works include the baseball drama “Take Me Out” and various pieces about urbane families. It is being staged by MTC artistic director Lynne Meadow.
Lavin’s character, Anna, grew up on the Lower East Side during the Depression and went on to become an upper-middle-class mother and wife in Long Island. Now widowed, ill and possibly dying, she brings together her adult children Seth (Greg Keller) and Abby (Kate Arrington) and reveals that she once had an affair back when they were children.
Not only that, the affair was with a notorious historical figure: David Greenglass, the Cold War spy who famously testified against his sister and brother-in-law, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, which led to their executions. However, it’s hard to tell if she’s telling the truth or just looking for attention.
The play has witty lines and a few surprises, but it’s also sluggish, messy and short on plot. Greenberg’s attempts to play with time and dramatic structure (like having the children make frequent comments to the audience) come off as labored. Meadow’s staging is generally flat.
Lavin, nailing her character’s acerbity, is terrifically funny but also identifiable and sympathetic. Keller and Arrington, in underwritten and underwhelming roles, passively sit on the sidelines while Lavin tells the tale.
If you go
“Our Mother’s Brief Affair” plays at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through March 6. 261 W. 47th St. ManhattanTheatreClub.com.