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October 21, 2011

The No. 1 Reason To See: Relatively Speaking

by Jesse North

relatively speaking broadway play poster woody allen ethan cohen elaine mayFamilies are complicated, and there’s a deep ocean of theatrical works that illustrate this point. We can add another hefty addition to that list with Relatively Speaking, a collection of three one-act comedies by Ethan Coen, Elaine May, and Woody Allen that examine the effects of familial kookiness in three different ways. “Talking Cure,” “George Is Dead,” and “Honeymoon Motel” feature a cornucopia of Oh yeah, that guy actors from TV and film, such as Marlo Thomas (That Girl), Steve Guttenberg (Three Men and a Baby), Grant Shaud (Murphy Brown), and Julie Kavner (The Simpsons). The three plays all maintain differing tones, but surely will feature someone that resembles a member of your own clan.

The No. 1 Reason To See Relatively Speaking: Marlo Thomas acting like a child
It’s a stark contrast to see Marlo Thomas in anything unlike her independent female character in That Girl, but Thomas couldn’t be any more unlike Ann Marie in George Is Dead. As Doreen, Thomas plays a newly widowed socialite (that is no spoiler—the play is called George Is Dead) who shows up at the door of the daughter of her childhood nanny looking for a place to stay. Doreen doesn’t want to be alone and she is helpless. Thomas accentuates this point effectively, making every pathetic request of Carla (Lisa Emery) hilarious. She asks her to make her tea, serve her some cheese and crackers, even requests that she scrape the salt off the Saltines. You half expect Doreen to ask Carla to chew the crackers for her. Thomas makes it a delight to watch what she’ll ask for next, as she quickly, but subtly, turns Carla into her maid. The true mark of Thomas’ strong performance, however, comes at the point when Doreen’s helplessness ceases to be funny, and we see the loneliness within. Thomas shows that chasm in Doreen in an elegantly subtle way, making it even more heartbreaking.

relatively speaking broadway marlo thomas woody allen elaine may ethan coen

Photo: Joan Marcus

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