"I admit Freud was a genius. Who else could make an hour into fifty minutes?" quips the Rabbi in Woody Allen's one-act play Honeymoon Motel. "" One-liners of both the classic and clunker variety abound in Allen's play, which makes up one-third of an evening of one-act comedies calledRelatively Speaking at Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre. It's tough for straight plays to make it to Broadway these days, and even tougher for one-acts to see the light of day there. But when you've got big names like Woody Allen, Ethan Coen, Elaine May, and John Turturro on the marquee, anything's possible. But is it worth the $55-$135?
That depends. None of the plays are all that memorable, but they're directed with loving brio by Turturro, and performed by a sharp and talented cast, which includes Danny Hoch, Lisa Emery, Marlo Thomas, Julie Kavner, Steve Guttenberg, and Mark Linn-Baker (Perfect Strangers!). They're all pros, adept at punching up uneven material into a breezy, almost old-fashioned night of theatrical comedy. Many of the actors play multiple roles, and Allen's play features the largest cast; it's set in a delightfully tacky Honeymoon suite, where the happy couple find themselves rudely interrupted by a crowd of incensed family members. What's all the hubbub about? Well, the woman in the wedding gown (Ari Graynor) was supposed to get married to—well, let's not spoil the play's central, fertile gag. Suffice it to say that this is Woody Allen's world, where taboos were made to be gleefully broken.
May's one-act, George is Dead, stars Lisa Emery as Carla, the daughter of a nanny who cared for an affluent, spoiled princess (Marlo Thomas) named Doreen, whose pampered upbringing has rendered her, in her autumn years, incapable of doing anything for herself. The two women were friends, of a sort, as children, and on the night of the titular George's death, Doreen comes knocking on Carla's door. In what turns out to be the most substantial and satisfying play of the night, Carla, whose marriage is falling apart, finds herself resentfully making the funeral arrangements for the helplessly self-absorbed Doreen. "I don't have the depth to feel this bad," Doreen howls in one of the show's funniest moments. Thomas's portrayal of Doreen skews toward caricature, but it's delicious nonetheless, and a hoot to watch her unwittingly make others feel as bad as their depths allow.
Coen's The Talking Cure, which opens the evening, is the most modest contribution out of the three. It concerns Larry, an imprisoned postal worker (Danny Hoch), and his frustrated psychiatrist, played by Jason Kravits. As the two banter during their sessions, the Doctor finds himself increasingly flummoxed: "Larry, I think we made some good progress last time. But then, when you assault the nurse, when you call her a dyke from hell—that negates the progress." The repartee is funny enough, but the short play winds up feeling slight, and you wish Coen allowed himself more room to spread out, as he's done previously, with two hilariously dark collections of one act plays, Almost an Eveningand Offices. We all know Coen's not exactly a lightweight, but this little sketch is relatively underwhelming.