Saturday, December 27, 2014

NY Review: RELATIVELY SPEAKING

Toby Zinman found nothing funny about these three comedies, despite the production's famous comic playwrights and famous comic actors.A Broadway dud.

NY Review: RELATIVELY SPEAKING

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By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

 

Three new one-act comedies written by three famous comic names (Ethan Coen, Elaine May, and Woody Allen) and performed by many veteran comic actors  should be a trifecta of laughs.  Should be.

 

Relatively Speaking is more an embarrassment to watch than an entertainment. This Broadway dud features everybody hauling out their vintage schtick—too loud, too slow, too forced, with every cliché gesture, every clutzy punchline, every vulgar elbow-nudge ever seen on the Borscht Belt decades ago. How did director John Turturro let this happen?

The first on the program is the best of the lot: Coen’s “Talking Cure” about a postal worker (standout Danny Hoch) who went postal. His inept psychiatrist (Jason Kravits) is, in session after session, trying to get him to answer the question: “Why are you here?” The answer, as any fool can see (and Hoch’s character, both menacing and bored, is nobody’s fool) is that he’s in a mental institution because he’s a mental patient.  He describes his parents constant battling, and when the scene shifts to his pregnant mother and father, waddya know and sure enough, we see why he was there.  After the shrink explains the “talking cure,” Hock delivers the evening’s best line: “Is there a shutting-the-f----up cure?” A question that needed to be asked.

Second is “George is Dead” where May creates one of those sit-com scenarios that is as implausible as it is groaningly dated: an ultra spoiled, ultra rich society matron (Marlo Thomas) arrives at the dingy apartment of her old nanny’s daughter (Lisa Emery) whose husband is too angry to come home in a subplot that goes nowhere.  The matron’s husband has just died in a skiing accident (“I don’t have the depth to feel this bad”) and the running gag is her requiring her cowed hostess to remove the salt from saltines.

Third is by Woody Allen who must have reached into a bottomless bottom drawer to find “Honeymoon Motel.”  The noisy, repetitious plot turns on a bride (Ari Graynor) who has run off with the groom’s stepfather (Steve Guttenberg). They are soon joined in the tacky honeymoon suite by the rest of both families, his psychiatrist, the rabbi who eulogizes everybody (a running gag that wasn’t funny to start with and gets worse).   The cast includes Julie Kavner and Mark Linn-Baker to no avail.

Relatively speaking, Relatively Speaking is a bust.

 

Brooks Atkinson Theatare, 256 W. 47th St., New York. Tickets $74.75 - $129.75
Information:800-745-3000, 877-250-2929 or www.ticketmaster.com

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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