Julian Schlossberg, Letty Aronson,
3 One-Act Comedies
(Relatively Speaking Website)
by Ethan Coen
George Is Dead
by Elaine May
by Woody Allen
Directed by John Turturro
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 West 47th Street
Caroline Aaron, Bill Army, Katherine Borowitz, Lisa Emery,
Ari Graynor, Steve Guttenberg, Danny Hoch, Julie Kavner,
Jason Kravits, Richard Libertini, Mark Linn-Baker,
Max Gordon Moore, Patricia O’Connell, Allen Lewis Rickman,
Grant Shaud, Marlo Thomas
Scenic Design: Santo Loquasto
Costume Design: Donna Zakowska
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Sound Design: Carl Casella
Casting: Cindy Tolan
Production Stage Manager: Ira Mont
Production Management: Aurora Productions
General Management: Richards/Climan, Inc.
Assoc. Producer: The Weinstein Company
Company Manager: Bruce Klinger
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 27, 2011
Relatively Speaking, an evening of three short plays, by Ethan Coen (Talking Cure), Elaine May (George Is Dead), and Woody Allen (Honeymoon Motel) was high humor and satisfying entertainment. The Woody Allen work, much lengthier, and filled with a sizeable cast, encompassed the second act. Among the celebrities and seasoned performers in the cast were Marlo Thomas as Doreen, in the Elaine May work, and Julie Kavner, as Fay Roth, in the Woody Allen work. Several actors re-appeared throughout the evening, and the plots were focused on dysfunctional families, with a smattering of campy characters, like a psychiatrist, a funeral director, a rabbi, and a pizza deliverer. The settings were a jail cell, a modest apartment, and a tacky, but fancy motel. It was wonderful, these days, to hear the audience laughing out loud, some sounding as though they belonged onstage themselves, in the hilarity of the moment. These short plays were immersed in resonant topics like adult resentment of imperious parents, sudden regression into long-ago relationships, parental rejection, family betrayal, marital infidelity, and the healing value of a good pizza.
Talking Cure is set in a mental ward, a quasi prison cell, with a patient (Danny Hoch) in a series of interviews with his psychiatrist (Jason Kravits). The patient committed a violent act at a post office, and he’s in no mood for therapy. The doctor, a slight New York Jewish personality, watches his back, literally, as the muscular, menacing patient belittles him, the process, his parents, and especially his victim. The humor is not vaudevillian, but rather sitcom, with the patient’s flashbacks later coming to life, as patient and doctor sit side stage, while the patient’s parents (Allen Lewis Rickman and Katherine Borowitz) sit at a retro dining table, waiting for unwelcome company, as they slice and dice each other with sharp verbal attacks. The very pregnant mother and passive-aggressive father are the very model of parents-to-be from hell, an end-play set-up that’s a great theatrical device, returning in time to frame the present. Talking Cure was a fascinating parody.
Marlo Thomas is a seasoned, captivating, nuanced actor. In George Is Dead, by Elaine May, her character Doreen surprises Carla (Lisa Emery), an acquaintance, whom she pretends to adore, with news that her husband suddenly died. Carla is pacing about, in an immediate conflict with her own husband, Michael (Grant Shaud), and Doreen starts ordering Carla about for drinks, cheese, crackers, a bed, blanket, and more, as she’s emotionally paralyzed and incapable of handling her husband’s funeral, let alone even retrieving his body. The entire dialogue is filled with high wit and absurdity, but there’s a missing link as to the kernel of their relationship. When Carla’s mother, called Nanny (Patricia O’Connell). to whom Carla has been immeasurably devoted, arrives on the scene, Nanny pushes Carla aside, and reverts to her nanny role, giving Doreen an adult spine, and giving Carla a gesture to walk behind them. There’s also a funeral director and his asst. (Allen Lewis Rickman and Max Gordon Moore), who add a macabre element to the action. But, the high point is watching Ms. Thomas morph from ditzy, spoiled, self-absorbed new widow to dependent, childish interloper, who seizes a lot more than Carla’s sheets and pillow, trapping her psyche in a prior way of life.
The coup de graçe of this trio of plays was Woody Allen’s Honeymoon Motel, with Julie Kavner and her iconic voice making a very vibrant appearance. Loosely, middle-aged and ebullient Jerry Spector (Steve Guttenberg) and nubile, blushing Nina Roth (Ari Graynor) arrive in a honeymoon suite, with a tacky round bed, heavy damask drapery, and bubbly drinks. The motel room door is the busiest door on this New York suburban highway, with a second groom, Paul Jessup (Bill Armey) arriving, I mean the actual groom. The original groom was really the groom’s step-father, who’s having a mid-life crisis affair with his step-son’s bride. Naturally the groom’s mother, Judy Spector (Caroline Aaron) has a full-blown tantrum, and her hilarious marital baggage is strewn about the tacky suite with titanic force. It’s here that Woody Allen’s voice can subliminally be heard, as the play’s lines are so akin to the voluminous cache of lines in Mr. Allen’s comedic films. I’ve actually seen several of these films, recently. This one-act play immediately evoked elements in “Annie Hall”, “Broadway Danny Rose”, and “Hannah and Her Sisters”.
Parents of the bride, Fay Roth (Ms. Kavner) and Sam Roth (Mark Linn-Baker) added fuel to the madcap marital discord, with their own secreted infidelities no longer safely under wrap. Ms. Kavner was a delight, a true natural, a stand-up comic here. Richard Libertini was the inebriated Rabbi Baumel, whose Pavlovian instinct to eulogize darkened all his bridal prayers. The philandering step-father’s psychologist, Dr. Brill (Jason Kravits), a guest at the wedding was another figure at the door, and comments about their therapy sessions fit right into this midnight melée. Danny Hoch returned as Sal Buonacotti, a pizza delivery man, who waxed philosophical and therapeutic, as he attempted to ease the tension with hot sausages and bons mots. Grant Shaud fills out the cast as best man, Eddie. John Turturro directs to maximize comedic edge and keeps this ensemble nimble, as some appear, then re-appear in different roles. Santo Loquasto’s sets are pitch-perfect. Mr. Loquasto is Mr. Allen’s longtime film designer, and he knows how to simplify or embellish to help the audience focus on the playwright’s essential meanings. Donna Zakowska’s costumes are perfectly conceived, as well, from Mr. Hoch’s institutional casual to Ms. Graynor’s celebratory bridal. Kenneth Posner’s lighting is warm and complimentary to each setting. Kudos to all.