“Too Much Sun” at the Vineyard Theatre (Closed Sunday June 22, 2014)

May 19, 2014 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
By Nicky Silver
Directed by Mark Brokaw
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“All the world’s a stage, /And all the men and women merely players:/They have their exits and their/entrances; /And one man in his time plays many parts.” – Jacques in “As You Like It” Act II, Scene VII (William Shakespeare, 1600)

In Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” Jacques solves the eternal question of whether art imitates life or life imitates art: simply, life is art and art is life. Seasoned stage performers have discovered what acting novices will discover during their careers; namely, as Meryl Streep affirms, “Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding [oneself] in there.” Acting indeed is life’s work.

Perhaps no one knows this better in Nicky Silver’s new play “Too Much Sun” than its protagonist Audrey Langham (Linda Lavin). Just before the opening night of Euripides’ “Medea” in a theatre in Chicago, Audrey realizes that her creative team does not know what acting is: she is trying to find the similarity in what is apparently different about her and Medea so she can find herself in there but her director just wants her to “just get through it” and ‘be’ Medea. Audrey leaves the stage, abandons the production, and two days later shows up unannounced at her daughter’s summer house and takes up residence in her son-in-law’s office (actually the guest bedroom) putting an abrupt halt to his novel-writing and the charade playing out on the summer house stage. Charades become real life drama.

Currently playing at the Vineyard Theatre, “Too Much Sun” is rich in themes. Playwright Nicky Silver tackles life in the theatre, art imitating life, honesty, dishonesty, and motivation. The first act successfully develops these themes as well-rounded characters Audrey, Kitty, Dennis, Lucas, Winston, and Gil have their exits and their entrances with complicated and engaging conflicts that move all story lines forward and set the stage for the second act. Unfortunately, following the intermission and the entr’acte, the second act of “Too Much Sun” begins to unravel.

Life is often predictable; however, there are no surprises in the second act when Dennis (Ken Barnett) confirms his inability to commit to his novel or his wife by ending his summer fling with neighbor Lucas leaving the twenty-something grappling with issues of abandonment. Audrey’s plan to wed Winston (Richard Bekins) to temporarily put an end to ennui crashes on the rocks shortly after Lucas’ body is pulled from the water. And Kitty (Jennifer Westfeldt) discloses her pregnancy to unfaithful Dennis admitting to a one-time tryst with theatre agent assistant and wanna-be rabbi Gil (Matt Dellapina) who bemoans the loss of his ability to join Audrey and Winston in holy matrimony.

Except for one, none of these interesting characters experiences any growth. Any apparent growth – like Audrey’s bid at a second chance to be a good mother – is simply a shift in motivation. As she was in all of her stage roles, she is very good at her roles in life. Better for her to help her daughter raise her child in the summer house than bunk with the long-time friend she deplores. All of the other characters behave as they did during the first act and, as previously stated, do everything the audience assumed they would.

The only character who knows what he wants and knows what he does not want is Lucas (Matt Dickson). Mr. Dickson delivers a stunning performance as a young man dodging his father’s expectations (mired in indifference) and the specter of the suicide of his mother. In Matt Dickson’s nurturing hands, Lucas’ death provides the singular redemptive moment in “Too Much Sun” and brings the audience right to the edge of catharsis.

Mark Brokaw’s careful direction provides a space for the exceptional ensemble cast to display their collective craft. It is a gift to watch the remarkable and iconic Linda Lavin perform. Ms. Lavin comingles her wondrous comedic timing with her ability to bring authenticity and honesty to her characters. Her Audrey Langham is irrepressible, single-minded, and irascible. Medea is no match for an Audrey scorned. Each of Nicky Silver’s characters here have, in one way or another, had too much sun, been too much sun, or longed for more sun. This cast makes these quests believable and memorable.

Despite minor missteps, “Too Much Sun” is a worthwhile and commendable exploration of the human effort to make sense of life, to redefine the meaning of relationship, and to grapple honestly with the vicissitudes of the thing we call love.