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Why everyone puts on a persona in Too Much Sun
It's not just because the lead character is an actress that Medea and Violet Venable are lurking in the background of Nicky Silver's latest play.
Premiering now at the Vineyard Theatre, Too Much Sun presents a world where everyone's performing all the time. Temperamental diva Audrey Langham (Linda Lavin) is certainly putting on a show of domestic enthusiasm for her estranged daughter Kitty and son-in-law Dennis when she arrives unannounced at their beach house after abruptly quitting a show. But Kitty and Dennis are pretending too, acting like a contently married couple. Meanwhile, their neighbors keep up a calm façade in the face of a family death, and even Gil, the assistant to Audrey's agent, insists he'd make a perfect rabbi, even though he's not very religious.
These masks and poses lead to both droll shenanigans and devastating consequences, and as they stumble along, characters regularly reference classic plays and Audrey's past roles. They also keep rehearsing things, from weddings to songs to the stories they tell themselves about their futures.
For Silver, those references are a signal of his intentions. "There are different theatrical worlds colliding subtly against each other," he says. "I wouldn't be inclined to write a play set in the theatre, because I think only people in the theatre are interested in plays set in the theatre. But that idea of performance is very much there for everyone."
More to the point, none of that theatricality is helping anyone. "These characters are acting their lives as opposed to living their lives, because they haven't figured out how to shed that theatrical veneer," Silver says. "We talked about this in rehearsal, that these characters, in a way, are on a journey to genuineness. Some of them succeed better than others, and some of them fail miserably because the genuineness is just too painful. It's easier to pretend to be happy than to be who you really are."
And if you're structurally minded, it's interesting to note how the sense of duality is embedded in the play's smallest details. When Dennis fantasizes about writing a science fiction novel, he wants it to be about alien brothers, one who's happy pretending to be human and one who can't handle it anymore. Without giving too much away, someone even reads a poem at a wedding rehearsal that manages to be both beautiful and terrifying at once.
Silver, however, didn't know this theme would be in the play when he started writing, any more than he knew the script would also explore the massive outcomes of small decisions or the way our expectations of love evolve as we get older.
"I know very little at the beginning: If I know too much, then I'm just connecting dots," he says. "With this play, all I knew is that I was writing it for Linda, and I wrote the line on the pad, 'You're getting ashes on the baby! That's all I knew."
Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor
Photo by Carol Rosegg