Linda Lavin and Jennifer Westfeldt share a moment in "Too Much Sun." Credit: Carol Rosegg
How does she do it? Always remaining gloriously in character, Linda Lavin makes sure every one of her laugh lines — and she has plenty — makes a perfect landing in Nicky Silver’s “Too Much Sun” at the Vineyard Theatre. Hardly shy and playing a diva to boot, Lavin’s performance is big, but her delivery is cushioned with the softest of soft touches, like a cloud come to Earth.
Her material is not just plentiful; it’s good. Silver’s wit is piquant and consistent, and most of it comes through the lips of Lavin’s Audrey Langham. An aging grande dameof the theater, she’s seeking refuge from her career in the summer rental of her daughter, Kitty (Jennifer Westfeldt), and husband, Dennis (Ken Barnett). As Kitty says, she’s like a hurricane. Her mere presence creates a torrent of emotion while she’s calm at the eye of the storm. Dennis has an affair with young Lucas (Matt Dickson). Lucas’s father, Winston (Richard Bekiins), wants to marry Audrey, and Kitty can’t help dwelling on a lifetime of hurtful neglect from a self-absorbed parent.
Silver’s tone is light even as he touches on some heavy themes. The opening vignette — Lavin as a flabbergasted Medea in a preposterous gold headdress and red cape — sets a tone of hilarity that just about never lets up. Mark Brokaw’s direction is wisely unobtrusive.
The play straddles genres, mixing naturalism with outlandish whimsy. Its plot developments are occasionally predictable, but often off the map. Most importantly, its characters are appealing and their dilemmas compelling. (If not, they’re at least always funny, and it’s always a pleasure to see a master like Lavin at work.)