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A CurtainUp Review
Too Much Sun

I've spent my life saying words that aren't mine in imaginary rooms. Miss Hannigan in January, Mother Courage in the spring. And suddenly, all at once, it was completely and utterly ridiculous . . .I've been doing this for forty years and all of a sudden it was bullshit. . .— Audrey Langham
Too Much Sun
Linda Lavin (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
With Too Much Sun, his tenth world premiere for the Vineyard Theatre, Nicky Silver has created another monstrous but moving woman of a certain age role for Linda Lavin. And her fans won't be disappointed.

Lavin is now a much married, famous stage actress instead of a kvetching, unhappily married suburban matron on the brink of widowhood. Yet Rita Lyons and Audrey Langham are cut from the same pattern of familial loneliness and non-communication that Silver has been working with throughout his career.

Like The Lyons, Too Much Sun benefits from director Mark Brokaw's smooth, unintrusive direction as well as plot and character propelling design work. The cast overall works hard and well, but it's once again Lavin's show.

Once Too Much Sun gets going, Michael Krass does get to make Lavin's Audrey Lahngham look as chic as Rita Lyons. But for her opening scene, a rehearsal for an about to open production of Medea, he's put her in a garish red costume. (Bravo to Krass for this as well as everyone's outfits).

That opener is Lavin at her most hilarious. Her kvetch this time is about the costume's color and her inability to relate to the director's concept for this production. Unlike the more self-contained, Rita, Audrey is on the brink of a nervous breakdown and explodes. She ignores "the show must go on" mantra, walks out and decamps to her rarely seen daughter Kitty (Jenniifer Westfeldt) and son-in-law Dennis's (Ken Barnett). That takes us to Donyale Werle's beautifully detailed and authentic Cape Cod summer beach house where Dennis is on leave from his advertising job to write a novel.

It doesn't take longer than that scene shift from the theatrical to the domestic stage to see the parallel between that most dysfunctional dramas in the theatrical canon Audrey abandons to the drama of her real life. Other analogies surface throughout the two acts.

The effect of Audrey's bombshell appearance at Kitty and Dennis's home and her revelations of problems more serious than the Medea brouhaha, supports Shakespeare's famous statement that "all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." Everything that happens in that summer cottage has a theatrical veneer with not just Audrey but all the other characters, as much actors playing parts as "regular" people living their lives.
Kitty and Dennis wear the pretend masks of a contented couple, even though her feeling about being a teacher, his writing ambitions and their sexual compatibility say otherwise about both their work and marital situation. There's a dark reality beneath the genial facase of the pot smoking and selling next door neighbor Lucas (Matt Dickson) and his widowed dad Winston (Richard Bekin).

Audrey gets into her survivor mode to handle her diminished fortunes and discarded career. Her plan involves marrying Winston (this is hardly a spoiler since it's apparent from the moment they meet). Winston is more than willing and the cottage's deck turns into a rehearsal stage for a carefully orchestrated wedding ceremony, complete with a poetry reading, music, a chuppah and an officiating rabbi.

Gil (Matthew Dellapina), who will be the rabbi but also performs the duties of a stage manager is another character to blur the lines between real life and a play. He's the nephew and assistant of Audrey's nasty agent who was told not to return to Chicago without bringing her back to fulfill her Medea obligation. And so he's remained on scene and the wedding is his chance to play a role he much prefers. Except for that not especially authentic chuppah and Gil's not completely kosher rabbinical status, there's nothing to indicate that anyone here is Jewish.

Though Too Much Sun adds up to a too plot cluttered canvas (Lucas's drug dealing seems the least necessary bit of subtext) with all the loose ends too neatly woven together for a rather contrived ending. Still, one of the the play's strengths is the way Silver adeptly integrates this similitude between performance on a theatrical stage and the stage of real life into his script. As is usual with his plays, he also manages to combine stand-up comedy style zingers with much darker elements and to intersperse interaction with character defining, keenly observant but never too long monologues for everyone.

Best of all is the opportunity the playwright has created for Ms. Lavin to once again demonstrate her masterful comic timing. It takes just a raised eyebrow for Audrey Langham to transform a classic cliche character's shtick into a deeply touching portrait of a woman at a crossroad in her life where she can no longer cover up her emotional neediness with denial and a sharp tongue.

The Lyons garnered enough praise to transfer to Broadway. However, even with an improved second act, it lasted there for only eighty performances. While the less tightly focused Too Much Sun has already extended a week before its official opening, a longer life at other stages is as iffy as Audrey's ending up being permanently available to her daughter.

Postscript: We saw but weren't on line to review Silver's Pterodactyls, Raised in Captivity, and The Food Chain. Here are links to plays we did review, all except Three Changes also at the Vineyard Theater.
The Altruists (2000)
Beautiful Child (2004)
The Eros Trilogy (1999)
The Maiden's Prayer(1998)
Three Changes (2008)
Too Much Sun by Nicky Silver
Directed by Mark Brokaw
Cast: Linda Lavin (Audrey Langham), Ken Barnett (Dennis), Richard Bekins (Winston), Matt Dellapina (Gil), Matt Dickson (Lucas) and Jennifer Westfeldt (Kitty)
Set design: Donyale Werle
Lighting design: David Lander
Costume design: Michael Krass
Sound design: David Van Tieghem
Stage Manager: Winnie Y. Lok
Running Time: Approx 2 hours plus intermission
Vineyard Theatre 108 E. 15 St.
From 5/01/14; opening 5/18/14; closing 6/22/14
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 5/15 press preview
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