Enjoying These Three One-Acts is All Relative
By Lauren Yarger
A who's-who stellar cast entertains in three one-act plays linked together by a theme of relationships with relatives, but enjoying them is, well, relative.
The first piece, Talk Therapy, by Ethan Coen, pits a mental patient (Danny Hoch) against his doctor (Jason Kravits) in a verbal match where identities and why the in-institution therapy sessions continue over time are up for grabs, both by the characters and the audience.
Hoch and Kravits are quite good as the intelligent, angry postal worker and his frustrated, intimidated therapist, respectively, and there's excellent attention to detail for the characters by director John Turturro who directs all of the night's plays, but the play is full of holes, not filled, even after the set (Santo Loquasto, design) breaks away to reveal another scene featuring the patient's bickering parents (Allen Lewis Rickman and Katherine Borowitz). This play ends abruptly leaving the audience to wonder whether that was the first act of something or the end of the first play.
Titles of the plays projected onto the curtain (Kenneth Posner, lighting design) provide the answer and next up is George is Dead by Elaine May.
This longer play serves as a vehicle for the welcome return to the stage of Marlo Thomas, sporting a blonde "do" and looking fabulous as Doreen, a shallow and pampered socialite who shows up on the doorstep of her former nanny's daughter, Carla (Lisa Emery). Doreen is unable to cope with the death of her husband, George, at a skiing lodge and thinks nothing of intruding on Carla for help. Carla's not excited to see her, however. Her own marriage to Michael (Grant Shaud) is on the rocks and her nanny mother (Patricia O'Connell) always loved her charge more than her daughter.
Thomas is a hoot as the hapless, insensitive, selfish Doreen. One scene in which she escapes her reality by watching classic comedies on TV would be even funnier if one of the opening themes we hear playing were from "That Girl." Emery is a nice foil for Thomas and her frenzied preparation of crackers and cheese to the specifications of her demanding guest will probably always cause me to chuckle at the sight of a saltine. The play structure itself is flawed, though, and ends on a less than satusfying note.
The showcase of the evening is the final play, Honeymoon Hotel by Woody Allen. Jerry Spector (Steve Guttenberg) and Nina Roth (Ari Graynor), in her wedding dress, then in a revealing negligee, (Donna Zakowska, costume design) flee a wedding ceremony and escape to a tacky hotel's bridal suite. Their blissful plans of pizza and an evening alone on the round bed are shattered, however, when friends and family follow them from the wedding. A drole Julie Kavner and Mark Linn-Baker play Nina's parents; Bill Army plays Jerry's son, Paul, and a very funny Caroline Aaron plays Paul's disapproving mother, Judy.
Also showing up at the hotel are Rabbi Baumel (Richard Libertini), who after imbibing a bit too much, keeps shifting from wedding talk to eulogies for the guests, as well as the pizza delivery guy (Hoch) and others played by Shaud and Kravits. It's funny in that bizarre Woody Allen way, but its ending isn't more satisfying than those offered by the first two plays. Enjoyment level of these plays really is relative -- compared to each other, the first play doesn't fare too well; compared to other plays on Broadway, the trio here seems flawed and guilty of underusing some great talent on the stage.
Relatively Speaking is presented at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th St., NYC. Discounted tickets are available by clicking here.
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--God's name taken in vain