Sunday, September 25, 2011

Relatively Speaking **

Three one-act plays by Ethan Coen, Elaine May and Woody Allen, now in previews at the Brooks Atkinson, are loosely linked by the theme of dysfunctional families.

The evening begins with Coen's "The Talking Cure," a series of sessions between psychiatrist (Jason Kravits) and patient (Danny Hoch). When the audience thought the play was over and started to applaud, the set suddenly opened to reveal the patient's parents (Fred Melamed and Katherine Borowitz) bickering at the dining room table when he was still in the womb. For me this scene detracted from, rather than added to, the play. I had previously seen two evenings of Coen's short plays and was underwhelmed both times. This one didn't change my opinion. In the presence of the great masters Elaine May and Woody Allen, Coen's work seemed not ready for prime time. I admire Coen's persistence, but the magic he works on screen doesn't seem to carry over to the stage.

Next up is Elaine May's "George Is Dead." Marlo Thomas shines as Doreen, a rich, selfish woman who has been so pampered that she is unable to act on her own. When her husband dies in a skiing accident, she turns up on the doorstep of Carla, her ex-nanny's grown daughter (the excellent Lisa Emery), on a night that she has fought with her husband Michael (Grant Shaud). Michael is a disillusioned liberal who is furious when he finds that Doreen, the woman to whom Carla's mother (Patricia O'Connell) had given precedence over her own daughter, is ensconced in their apartment. What follows goes on a bit too long, but the pleasure of hearing May's sparkling lines outweighed the play's shortcomings, at least for me.

Last but certainly not least is Woody Allen's hilarious farce "Honeymoon Motel," which by itself is worth the price of admission. This is the Woody Allen of old with nonstop funny dialogue and no pretense of seriousness. Allen presents the wedding night from Hell in the tacky honeymoon suite of a Long Island motel. We have a bride and groom, Nina Roth and Paul Jessup (the marvelous Ari Graynor and Bill Army), the bride's parents Sam and Fay Roth (Mark Linn-Baker and Allen veteran Julie Kavner), the groom's mother and stepfather Judy and Jerry Spector (Caroline Aaron and Steve Guttenberg, both terrific), Jerry's friend Eddie (Grant Shaud again), Jerry's shrink (Jason Kravits again), a rabbi (Richard Libertini) and a pizza delivery man (Danny Hoch again.) Mayhem ensues.

There are over three weeks until opening night, ample time for the playwrights and director John Turturro to work out some of the rough spots. I personally would have preferred seeing a longer version of the Allen play all by itself.

There was a service dog sitting under the seat next to the friend I attended with. Judging from the vigorous way he wagged his tail when the play ended, we were convinced that he enjoyed it too.

Running time:  2 hours, 20 minutes including a pause and an intermission

No comments: