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REVIEW: ‘Relatively Speaking’ involves a joyless threesome

hochdanny102011_optWoody Allen’s new one-act proves better than dire efforts by Elaine May and Ethan Coen

BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
BROADWAY REVIEW

One wonders what Brooks Atkinson, the eminent drama critic, would say about “Relatively Speaking,” which opened on Thursday at the Broadway house that bears his distinguished name.

Compared to far more caustic colleagues like George Jean Nathan, Atkinson was fairly temperate in his observations of the New York theater scene from 1925 to 1960. But I suspect that even Atkinson would be spewing invective at the shoddy Broadway goods packaged as “Relatively Speaking.”

This alleged entertainment consists of three feeble one-act comedies dealing with dubious family ties.

thomasmarlo6102011_optThe opener is Ethan Coen’s “Talking Cure,” which sees a psychiatrist (Jason Kravits) frustrated in his attempts to chat with an obviously disturbed fellow (Danny Hoch) in a mental hospital. Coen’s laugh-free sketch might be better rendered in terser circumstances by “Saturday Night Live.”

Next up is the longer and even more dire “George is Dead” from the dust-dry pen of Elaine May. It is presumably meant to be a sardonic look at the clueless, helpless super-rich embodied by the dizzy persona of Doreen (Marlo Thomas) whose gazillionaire husband has just perished in a skiing accident. Somehow Doreen inveigles Carla (Lisa Emery), a slight acquaintance, into coping with all of the funeral details as well as other chores like scraping off the salt from her crackers.

Carla’s husband (Grant Shaud) angrily leaves her in the process. The final onstage image that May leaves viewers is a casket, which isn’t much to laugh about. It is unclear who is intended to be the greater fool here – childish Doreen or masochistic Carla. Whichever, this flat and labored trifle fails to amuse.

Following those stinkers, the intermission was a pleasure.

The program’s concluding and best one-act – rather like a broken leg is better than a broken neck – is “Honeymoon Motel,” a tasteless bowl of Borscht Belt humor sloppily served by Woody Allen.

guttenberg7102011_optSet in a garish honeymoon suite, the farce involves a bride (Ari Graynor) who flees the altar with her would-be father-in-law (Steve Guttenberg). His angry wife (Caroline Aaron), her upset parents (Julie Kavner and Mark Linn-Baker), a tippling rabbi (Richard Libertini), the erstwhile groom (Bill Army) and several others shortly arrive to confront the runaways.

Scattershot gags about Freud, nymphomaniacs, Lorena Bobbitt, suicide, bad sex, post-modern novels, marriage counselors and sundry topics are delivered by the company at the top of their lungs. It’s all very loud, very fast and remarkably pointless.

John Turturro staged the plays. Because the material is so poor it’s impossible to assess his work. Three-time Tony-winning designer Santo Loquasto provides a trio of homely settings. Since each play involves unattractive characters being unpleasant, these environs prove to be relatively appropriate.



 
Comments (1)
1 Tuesday, 01 November 2011 15:15
Mishell
Hey check out an interesting take by C. Jefferson Thom, a critic at Culture Catch on the New 3 One-Act comedy plays "Relatively Speaking" by Ethan Coen, Elaine May, and Woody Allen at: http://culturecatch.com/theater/relatively-speaking

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