In the opening scene of Nicky Silver’s Too Much Sun, indefatigable Linda Lavin stands before us as diva thespian Audrey Langham in a loud, fire-red gown essaying the role of Medea in Chicago and bluntly declaring, ”I don’t know what the f— I’m doing up here!” The same could never be said of Lavin herself, an actress who makes every ”hmm” and purr an eventful declaration. After her dynamite, Tony-nominated turn in Silver’s The Lyons a few seasons ago, in which she delivered a spectacularly nuanced, unbroken aria in the play’s second act, her return as the playwright’s muse promised some new fireworks. But Silver’s latest, a repetitive amalgam of his other works playing at Off Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre through Jun2 22, is more like a fizzle.
Part of the problem lies with the fact that Silver keeps Lavin off stage for considerable stretches of time to concentrate on a far-less intriguing gallery of supporting character. There’s her dutiful, resentful daughter Kitty (a game but misused Jennifer Westfeldt), who reluctantly welcomes the now-broke Audrey into her Cape Cod summer home, and Kitty’s hubby (Ken Barnett), an aspiring sci-fi novelist who never pens a word. Then there are their neighbors: an India-obsessed, wealthy widower (Richard Bekins, who gives the evening’s most interesting performance) and his pot-dealing, manic, moody gay son (Matt Dickson), who feels like a warmed-over facsimile of Michael Esper’s far-more edgy gay son in The Lyons. And to complicate matters further, there’s Gil (Matt Dellapina), the harried, in-over-his-head assistant to Audrey’s agent and a budding rabbi.
Silver’s gift for throwaway chuckles is still in evidence, especially when Lavin sets up verbal pins and just as quickly knocks ‘em down. (In one choice bit, Audrey tells the widower the ideal time to call on her: ”Not before noon. Ever.”) But under Mark Brokaw’s rather wan direction, Too Much Sun often feels like it’s treading water — perhaps in imitation of Donyale Werle’s effective beachfront set. There’s a curtain-dropping bit of business that any semi-keen theatergoer will see coming from miles away. Worse, Silver gluts his play with enough speeches to fill a presidential campaign; seriously, each character seems to get at least two lengthy, and often unnecessary soliloquies so that you might be inclined to agree when one character complains that another ”talks too much.” The one exception, of course, is the always welcome Lavin, who tears into the too-modest role she’s been given. C