Saturday, August 30, 2014
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New York Review: TOO MUCH SUN

By Toby Zinman

New York Review: TOO MUCH SUN


By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

She's the scorned woman who showed Hell what fury looks like. She's the 2500 year-old feminist icon, half witch, half myth. Medea, Euripides' child-murdering monster, is also Nicky Silver's appalling maternal character who turns up over and over again in his plays. Too Much Sun, his newest comedy, stars the knockout Linda Lavin diva-ing it up in this premiere at the Vineyard Theater.

Silver, a Philadelphian turned New Yorker, specializes in grotesque comedy; in Too Much Sun, he gives us an actress preparing the role of Medea, and Lavin's first scene, in full Ancient Greek regalia (robes, headdress, eyeliner) is hilarious. Forgetting her lines, complaining about the direction, complaining about her dressing room, complaining about everything, she finally stalks off stage and into a taxi.

Once she arrives at the summer beach house to visit her daughter Kitty (Jennifer Westfeldt) and son-in-law Dennis (Ken Barnett), mayhem ensues. We expect Medea-like doings from the famous and ego-maniacal Audrey Langham, but it turns out that, as we learn in Act Two, "People surprise you just when you think you have them all figured out."

Of all the not-very-surprising but irritating characters in Too Much Sun, Audrey Langham is the most interesting and least awful.  The rich next-door neighbor, Winston (Rich Bekins) who seems such a sweet old-fashioned dolt of a guy, and who is lined up to be Audrey's Husband #6, turns out to be an indiscriminate womanizer. Dennis gets romantically involved with Winston's son (Matt Dickson) in a plot tangle we can see coming a mile away. Gil (Matt Dellapina) is his uncle's assistant (his uncle being Audrey's frantic agent, "Goebbels minus the warmth") but he longs to be a rabbi despite having no interest in theology.

The play starts out funny and loses steam and laughs fast. The Medea connection turns out to have no real resonance in the play, and the title makes no sense at all.  But Lavin is a treat to watch and the only reason to see this show. The rest of the cast is mainly a series of acting clichés: Westfeldt keeps her face scrunched up in querulous dismay throughout, while Barnett's emotional range reaches only so far as a trembling lower lip.  Mark Brokaw's direction has everyone deliver their this-is-who-I-am monologue facing the audience, compounding the play's awkward triteness. But as soon as Lavin prances onstage with her superb timing, the stage lights up.

Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street, New York.  Through June 22.

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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