Elaine May, Woody Allen, Ethan Coen and John Turturro have written and directed Relatively Speaking, a trio of short plays that begs a question: Why this mishmash of stories with little or no themes?
The lack of clarity on the whole could have been forgiven had each segment been well-written and enjoyable standing on its own. Sadly, this is a point that cannot be made about any of the three stories presented here.
In Coen’s Talking Cure, a fantastically short-tempered shrink (Jason Kravitz) runs through a series of “therapeutic” sessions with his patient, an over-reactive and socially inept deeply affected New Yawka, played with great animation by Danny Hoch.
Though the sessions most likely read well, they’re too slow and drawn out for the first portion of the impending show.
The audience’s restlessness is abated, however, when the sessions break in time and compendium for a short scene with two characters of a similar nature to that of Hoch’s patient.
Their hot-tempered personas eventually lead to a weak resolution demonstrating an example of nature vs. nurture; after all, it becomes obvious that the pair is the patient’s parents.
Elaine May’s George is Dead seems to have more depth at first, but it quickly becomes apparent that the payoff will be in some sort of climactic ending.
George has died, and his wife, Doreen, is focused on how her loss affects her own life.
Marlo Thomas plays the conceited, dense widow with equal parts humor and adorability. Her foil is Carla, the daughter of the nanny who raised her.
At first, Lisa Emery’s Carla is fun to watch as she is walked on with heavy steps. Eventually Carla loses any sympathy, especially when she chooses to help a woman who has repeatedly wronged her over saving her own marriage.
Grant Shaud shines in this piece as Carla’s husband, as he questions the sanity of the world and the choices that people in his life keep making.
“America’s become a reality show, and no one can change the channel,” says Michael before he storms away from his home.
As for that payoff at the end? It never comes. Underlying themes of role reversal and class structure are evident, but you’d need to be a philosophizer to attempt to figure out May’s purpose with this piece.
The strongest of the three short plays is Honeymoon Motel, despite its problematic direction.
The actors, which include Steve Guttenberg and Richard Libertini, roll their lines off of one another with well-timed ease, as if they have been a working comedy troupe for years.
Allen’s story about a wedding party that ends up in a chintzy Long Island hotel room is insanely funny, especially upon the entrance of Julie Kavner and Mark Linn-Baker, the parents of the bride (Ari Graynor).
The boisterous cast is fabulously loud, critical, and all the great attributes that Allen tends to write into his most Jewish of characters.
In spite of the comedic brilliance, Allen’s ending is a floppy mess, leaving audiences disappointed.
Turturro clearly struggled with the task of directing all three pieces. This is most evident in Honeymoon Hotel, in which a large ensemble of actors finds itself on stage with nothing to do.
Something more might have been conveyed in Talking Cure had Turturro utilized more of the stage.
Overall, Relatively Speaking is more than relatively inadequate upon considering its potential.
Relatively Speaking is playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Visit www.relativelyspeakingbroadway.com for more information.